Do you think novels are better able to capture historical events than non-fiction accounts? Why or Why not?
Join Date: 10/15/10
Join Date: 06/14/13
It depends on what aspect of the historical event one is focusing on. If statistics and dates are the focus, the non-fiction would be best. However, novels can perfectly recreate the zetgeist of the time through the eyes of well crafted characters--showing us the way a person placed in that time period and under those circumstances would think and act.
Join Date: 02/23/14
I think a deftly written fictional account can offer more of an authentic "experience" of a event or time if informed by accurate, well-researched data but fleshed out by well-imagined context to creat an experience rather than a recitation.
Join Date: 10/29/11
For me, I have an easier time reading novels in the historical fiction section to give me an overview on history Non-fiction is too dry for me. I accept that in a novel, there is embellishment, but assume that within that are fact based events. I have spent many years now catching up on my history, which had never been of interest to me, via historical novels.
Join Date: 12/07/12
They each have a place and one can think of the best of each and make a case for that genre. Even with non fiction, the need to pick and choose which details to relate and which to disregard puts a structure on the narration that wasn't present at the time of the events that calls into question what truth is. The winner writes the history. But fiction can choose a smaller number of individuals and bring the reader to care deeply for them. By placing the characters in the situations of actual historical events the writer avoids that uncomfortable feeling that arises when reading conversations coming from the mouths of real people that could not possibly be accurate. The characters are created and the events are created. When this is well done, as it was in this novel, the reader knows it is "true".
Join Date: 02/24/14
I love both novels and non-fiction. Typically I read them for a different experience.
Historical fiction/novels take me to the time and place and put me front and center in the period. I feel with the characters, I relate to their emotions, I want an expect to be entertained and educated.
When I read non-fiction I want to know the reality of the time and place. I do not expect to be entertained I expect to be educated. I have found many authors who write GOOD historical fiction and only a few who write good non-fiction. Would be interested to know if others find that to be true.
Join Date: 10/16/10
I think you make a very interesting point, Sherilyn. I was trying to figure out what novels brought to my experience that NF books don't, and I think you hit the nail on the head when you mention emotions. Unless the book is an autobiography, NF generally can't capture the inner thoughts and emotions of those who witness the unfolding of history. There are probably people out there who read a non-fiction book and can imagine how it felt to be a part of the event portrayed, but I'm not one of them, and so I find it gives me a much clearer, more developed picture when I have a character in front of me relaying thoughts.
Join Date: 03/22/12
For me, unless I want pure information and facts, fiction is always better. There have been a few fictional books that I have read that I have wondered about the "creative license " used in some of the information. If I am that interested, I usually start researching the subject independent of the book. I think this is good because I learn a lot about a subject that I probably would not have read if it was a historical novel.
I just enjoy reading a fictional account of a historical event more than straight history.
Join Date: 04/17/11
I agree with Penny! I have an MA in History plus all the hours towards my PhD, so I have read my share of nonfiction. Still I have fiction gives the reader a much more vibrant sense of life in another country or era. I have told students that nonfiction is like the skeletal structure of the body and fiction is like the blood, muscles, and lungs which breathe life and movement into history.
Join Date: 06/16/11
I think sandeo used the perfect simile to describe the difference between the two genre. I must admit that I learn a lot more about other countries and cultures from fiction than I do from non-fiction since I rarely read history. PBS and the history channel occasionally engage and inform me about other cultures but mostly I'd rather read a book and rather the book be fiction. Being totally engaged with a character in a story makes the realities of his/her life so real that I am learning a lot simply because I care about them.
Join Date: 09/09/13
Join Date: 04/21/11
Both fiction and nonfiction I read. But I do prefer fiction and if I have an issue with a historical fact or event, I'll often get a nonfiction just to learn more about that occurrence. Often a writer will give us nonfiction that reads like fiction. "The 900 Days" by Harrison E. Salisbury, "Deluge" by Peggy Shinn, are examples of nonfiction I recently read. Both have extensive research accounts and that is another difference between fiction and nonfiction: the research is noted in the book. I believe there is good reason to read both categories of books.
Join Date: 10/20/10
I prefer fiction. Fiction often conveys not just the facts, but the emotions of the people involved. Non-fiction history or current affairs often due not hold my interest. I generally struggle to get through them, and retain less of what I've read.
Join Date: 01/16/14
Non-fiction can be too cut and dry and while the facts may all be correct, the emotion, the colour and human factor are lost. A fictional account told by one of the players or victims will add a dimension that a non-fiction book on the same subject cannot. In order to write a true historic novel, the same amount of research must be performed but it is the human element that makes it real to the reader.
The facts of Chechnya that were allowed into the western press could not possible compare to an account by a survivor or active participant as Marra does in his fictional account. His characters are humans experiencing horrors hopefully none of us will experience and yet we can feel and taste what they are in his words.
Join Date: 07/18/11
Overall, yes, fiction writers can and do more effectively bring us into historical events by personalizing the experience of horrendous events, suffering and thus pulling readers into those worlds. Yet historians can also do this. Two works which immediately come to mind are Allen Hochschild's "To End All Wars" about WWI and Richard J. Evens' "Third Reich at War" which deals only with the events and people in Germany as the war affects them. Hochschild's book focuses of on specific people affected or affecting the war such as politicians, generals, and conscientious objectors thereby giving us a more human view of war and it's effects.
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