Today, thoughts on historical fiction from Fresh Fiction Editorial Manager Danielle Dresser...
Once upon a time, I was a publicist for a wonderful publisher
(shout out to Sourcebooks!) and I spent a lot of time paying attention to publishing trends -
what was working in the industry? What were editors acquiring? What was selling, aka what
were people reading? On top of my job, I was also a member of a book club and we went
through a period of about a year or so where just about all we read was World War II fiction…
was it because people really loved reading about this time period, or was it because that’s
what the publishing industry decided to publish?
To be fair, our book club instituted an unofficial rule to not
read WWII fiction (until very recently, LOL!) and now that I’m back in the publishing industry,
I’ve noticed something else…
Post-World War II fiction. Set well after the war,
usually in the 50s and 60s, these novels still have WWII looming over its narrative. Perhaps it’s
a family member dealing with PTSD before there was a word for it, as a community dealing
with tragedy grapples in Judy Blume’s IN THE
UNLIKELY EVENT... Or maybe it’s women
grappling with the glimpses of independence they were given while the men were off fighting,
as we see in THE ALL-GIRLS FILLING
STATION REUNION by Fannie Flagg… Or it might be something different still - feeling
like the rest of the world is moving forward, but some places are stuck in the past. These are
the novels I find myself drawn to; stories sometimes set outside of the US but still during this
postwar time period.
In Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels, beginning with MY
BRILLIANT FRIEND, two girls, Elena and Lila,
the smartest girls in their class, feel both hindered and encouraged by each other’s academic
prowess. While they are hungry for more freedom and education, Naples is still stuck in the
past, with families expecting young women to help at home and marry well. While not explicitly
explained in the novels, Naples was devastated by WWII, and the after-effects - poverty,
despair, and guilt - still plague the town. Elena is able to continue her education and
essentially get out, while Lila marries young and feels trapped. Elena, as we learn in later
books, will always be tied to Naples and feel certain obligations to her friend.
Set a little later in the late 50s and early 60s, NEXT
YEAR IN HAVANA and the forthcoming
WHEN WE LEFT CUBA by Chanel
Cleeton takes an entirely different spin on post-
war fiction because they deal with something else entirely - the Cuban Revolution and
eventually the Cold War. Cuba was, for the most part, a faithful Allie during the war, so when
it’s own political turmoil takes places in the late 50s, the rest of the world isn’t quite sure how
to take action. The lives of Elisa and Beatriz Perez are completely changed when their
comfortable lives as the daughters of a wealthy sugar baron are in danger as Castro comes
into power. Both Elisa and Beatriz take different paths, though ultimately they have to leave
their beloved Cuba for Florida.
Even though there are some tough things that take place
throughout these books, ultimately, I think what appeals to me the most about postwar fiction
is the sense of hope and something greater to come - after the hardship of the Second World
War, people have to move forward, and these books show how they moved through history.
More World War II and Postwar novels to consider:
OUR KIND by Kitty Zeldis
BAR HARBOR RETIREMENT HOME FOR FAMOUS WRITERS by Terri-Lynne DeFino
WAR BRIDE’S SCRAPBOOK by Caroline Preston
SUMMER WIVES by Beatriz Williams
NIGHTINGALE by Kristin Hannah
PARIS ARCHITECT by Charles Belfoure
BE GOOD by Amber Brock
GUERNSEY LITERARY AND POTATO PEEL PIE SOCIETY by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie
DOLLHOUSE by Fiona Davis
LIGHT BETWEEN OCEANS by M.L. Stedman
Books featured in this article:
When a series of passenger airplanes crashed in Elizabeth,
New Jersey within a three-month period in 1951–1952, Judy
Blume was a teenager. “These events have lingered in my mind
ever since,” says Blume. “It was a crazy time. We were
witnessing things that were incomprehensible to us as
Was it sabotage? An alien invasion? No one knew, and people
were understandably terrified.” Against this background,
Blume uses her imagination to bring us the lives of three
generations of families, friends, and strangers, who will be
profoundly affected by these events, either directly or
But life goes on and Blume digs deep into her characters—we
see them coping not only with grief but with first love,
estranged parents, difficult friendships, familial
obligations, divorce, career ambitions, a grandparent’s
love, a widower’s hope, and everything in between. . . .
Most important, In the Unlikely Event is filled with the
same warmth and authenticity that have won Blume the hearts
and minds of readers of all generations.
Women's Fiction Contemporary | Suspense [Knopf, On Sale: June
2, 2015, Hardcover / e-Book, ISBN: 9781101875049 /
The one and only Fannie Flagg, beloved author of Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle
Stop Cafe, Can’t Wait to Get to Heaven,
and I Still Dream About You,
is at her
hilarious and superb best in this new comic mystery novel about two women who are forced to
reimagine who they are.
Mrs. Sookie Poole of Point Clear, Alabama, has just married off the last of her daughters and is
looking forward to relaxing and perhaps traveling with her husband, Earle. The only thing left
to contend with is her mother, the formidable Lenore Simmons Krackenberry. Lenore may be a
lot of fun for other people, but is, for the most part, an overbearing presence for her daughter.
Then one day, quite by accident, Sookie discovers a secret about her mother’s past that
knocks her for a loop and suddenly calls into question everything she ever thought she knew
about herself, her family, and her future.
Sookie begins a search for answers that takes her to California, the Midwest, and back in time,
to the 1940s, when an irrepressible woman named Fritzi takes on the job of running her
family’s filling station. Soon truck drivers are changing their routes to fill up at the All-Girl
Filling Station. Then, Fritzi sees an opportunity for an even more groundbreaking adventure.
As Sookie learns about the adventures of the girls at the All-Girl Filling Station, she finds
herself with new inspiration for her own life.
Fabulous, fun-filled, spanning decades and generations, and centered on a little-known
aspect of America’s twentieth-century story, The All-Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion
is another irresistible novel by the remarkable Fannie Flagg.
Mystery | Women's Fiction
[Random House, On Sale: November 5, 2013, Hardcover / e-
Book, ISBN: 9781400065943 / ]
Book one in the New York Times bestselling Neapolitan quartet about two friends growing up
in post-war Italy is a rich, intense, and generous-hearted family epic by Italy’s most beloved
and acclaimed writer, Elena Ferrante, “one of the great novelists of our time.” (Roxana
Robinson, The New York Times)
Beginning in the 1950s in a poor but vibrant neighborhood on the outskirts of Naples,
Ferrante’s four-volume story spans almost sixty years, as its protagonists, the fiery and
unforgettable Lila, and the bookish narrator, Elena, become women, wives, mothers, and
leaders, all the while maintaining a complex and at times conflictual friendship. Book one in
the series follows Lila and Elena from their first fateful meeting as ten-year-olds through their
school years and adolescence.
Through the lives of these two women, Ferrante tells the story of a neighborhood, a city, and a
country as it is transformed in ways that, in turn, also transform the relationship between her
“An intoxicatingly furious portrait of enmeshed friends,” writes Entertainment Weekly.
“Spectacular,” says Maureen Corrigan on NPR’s Fresh Air. “A large, captivating, amiably
peopled bildungsroman,” writes James Wood in The New Yorker.
Ferrante is one of the world’s great storytellers. With My Brilliant Friend, she has given her
readers an abundant, generous, and masterfully plotted page-turner that is also a stylish work
of literary fiction destined to delight readers for many generations to come.
Historical | Fiction
[Europa, On Sale: September 25, 2012, Paperback / e-Book, ISBN:
9781609450786 / ]
Havana, 1958. The daughter of a sugar baron, nineteen-year-old Elisa Perez is part of Cuba's
high society, where she is largely sheltered from the country's growing political unrest--until
she embarks on a clandestine affair with a passionate revolutionary...
Miami, 2017. Freelance writer Marisol Ferrera grew up hearing romantic stories of Cuba from
her late grandmother Elisa, who was forced to flee with her family during the revolution. Elisa's
last wish was for Marisol to scatter her ashes in the country of her birth.
Arriving in Havana, Marisol comes face-to-face with the contrast of Cuba's tropical, timeless
beauty and its perilous political climate. When more family history comes to light and Marisol
finds herself attracted to a man with secrets of his own, she'll need the lessons of her
grandmother's past to help her understand the true meaning of courage.
Romance Contemporary | Women's Fiction [Berkley, On Sale: February
6, 2018, Paperback / e-Book, ISBN: 9780399586682 / eISBN: 9780399586699]
vivacious, intriguing novel that historical fiction readers will love!
In 1960s Florida, a young Cuban exile will risk her life--and heart--to take back her
country in this exhilarating historical novel from the author of Next Year in Havana,
a Reese Witherspoon Book Club pick.
Beautiful. Daring. Deadly.
The Cuban Revolution took everything from sugar heiress Beatriz Perez--her family, her
people, her country. Recruited by the CIA to infiltrate Fidel Castro's inner circle and pulled into
the dangerous world of espionage, Beatriz is consumed by her quest for revenge and her
desire to reclaim the life she lost.
As the Cold War swells like a hurricane over the shores of the Florida Strait, Beatriz is caught
between the clash of Cuban American politics and the perils of a forbidden affair with a
powerful man driven by ambitions of his own. When the ever-changing tides of history
threaten everything she has fought for, she must make a choice between her past and future--
but the wrong move could cost Beatriz everything--not just the island she loves, but also the
man who has stolen her heart...
Women's Fiction | Women's
Fiction Historical [Berkley, On Sale: April 9, 2019, Trade
Size / e-Book, ISBN: 9780451490865 / eISBN: 9780451490872]
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