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Beyond the Book Articles
People, Eras & Events

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The First Coed Colleges in the U.S. (08/21)
In Yale Needs Women, author Anne Gardiner Perkins explores the circumstances surrounding Yale University's decision to go coed in 1969, and the experiences of its first female students. Yale's change in policy was hardly revolutionary, as some colleges and universities in the U.S. had been coed since the 19th century.

Oberlin College ...
Eubie Blake and Noble Sissle (08/21)
In Footnotes, Caseen Gaines explores the production of Shuffle Along, the first all-Black musical to become a runaway success on Broadway. The show's appeal and popularity are credited in part to the talents of songwriting team Noble Sissle and Eubie Blake, who had a history of collaborating that predated their exceptional work on Shuffle...
Joan Miller, Unlikely Spy (08/21)
Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction, and in the case of An Unlikely Spy, fiction mirrors reality with a protagonist whose escapades parallel those of a real MI5 spy, Joan Miller.

Don't worry, An Unlikely Spy strays from the real-life story just enough in the end for me to assure you there are no spoilers here.

Joan Miller was ...
The 1929 Women's War in Nigeria (07/21)
In a story called 'The Statistician's Wife' in Walking on Cowrie Shells, a Nigerian woman tells her white husband, 'In 1929, ten thousand Igbo women started ogu umunwanyi, the Women's War. When men do wrong, we 'sit on you.' It's part of our tradition, how we protest.'

Her description is accurate, but she is simplifying the historical ...
The United East India Company (07/21)
In the prologue of The Devil and the Dark Water, Stuart Turton writes:

In 1634, the United East India Company was the wealthiest trading company in existence, with outposts spread across Asia and the Cape. The most profitable of these was Batavia, which shipped mace, pepper, spices, and silks back to Amsterdam aboard its fleet of ...

Social Class and the Iranian Revolution (07/21)
Nazanine Hozar's debut novel Aria opens in 1953 Iran and concludes nearly three decades later in 1981, two years after the Iranian Revolution and the establishment of the Islamic Republic. Her narrative weaves together threads from across mid-20th century Iran's complex and diverse social, economic and religious groups. Class ...
Women in Uganda (07/21)
In A Girl Is a Body of Water, set in the 1970s-'80s, Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi presents a compelling protagonist named Kirabo who is coming of age in Uganda and learning what it means to be a woman from her grandmother, aunts and other women in her village. Like most cultures, Ugandan society is largely patriarchal in structure. Women ...
The Bielski Partisans (07/21)
In The Forest of Vanishing Stars, persecuted Jews in Eastern Europe take shelter in the Naliboki Forest, located west of Minsk in contemporary Belarus. The area, then known as Byelorussia, was annexed by the Soviet Union in 1939 at the same time as Germany invaded Poland as part of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact that established a non-...
Elinor Smith (07/21)
Great Circle features an account of a fictional early aviatrix named Marian Graves, and author Maggie Shipstead inserts snippets of aviation history throughout the narrative. One woman frequently mentioned is Elinor Smith, aka 'The Flying Flapper of Freeport.'

Elinor Regina Patricia Ward was born in New York City in 1911 to parents who...
Julius and Ethel Rosenberg (07/21)
On June 19, 1953, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were executed by electric chair at Sing Sing Prison in Ossining, New York, having been convicted of spying for the Soviet Union.

The Rosenbergs met in the Young Communist League in 1936 and married in 1939. Julius worked for the U.S. Army Signal Corps as an engineer, and though Ethel (né...
The "Lost Cause" Myth and Its Physical Legacy (07/21)
Following defeat and widespread destruction in the Civil War, people in the former Confederate states set about rebuilding their communities and coping with the enormity of their loss. This effort included physical and psychological measures, such as building cemetery monuments and establishing Confederate Memorial Day to honor fallen ...
The Wreck of the Royal Tar (06/21)
The wreck of the Lyric and Fidelia Hathaway's swim to shore in The Last True Poets of the Sea are fictional, but there are indeed nearly one thousand shipwrecks off Maine's rocky coastline, all with stories of their own. Some involved passenger ships like the Lyric; others were military or commercial vessels. Some wrecks are visible, ...
Viktor Orbán and Hungary's "Illiberal Democracy" (06/21)
In Surviving Autocracy, Masha Gessen places the presidency of Donald Trump in an international context, drawing comparisons with other world leaders who have demonstrated a penchant for authoritarianism and oligarchy. One of these leaders is Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán, who has been the subject of scrutiny and ire (but ...
Mathinna and the British Treatment of Aboriginal Australians (06/21)
In The Exiles, Christina Baker Kline tells the stories of three women caught up in the British colonization of Australia and the nearby islands (which today form the Commonwealth of Australia). One of these stories is that of a young Aboriginal girl named Mathinna. Although Kline has embellished on what is known about Mathinna's life to ...
Johannes Kepler (1571-1630) (06/21)
The narrator of Rivka Galchen's novel Everyone Knows Your Mother Is a Witch is Katharina Kepler, mother of noted astronomer Johannes Kepler. Kepler was born in 1571 in Weil der Stadt, Württemberg, a German territory within the Holy Roman Empire. His father, whom Kepler pronounced 'an immoral, rough and quarrelsome soldier,' was a ...
Chinese Passengers Aboard the Titanic (06/21)
In Luck of the Titanic, we get a glimpse into the lives of Chinese passengers and workers aboard the famous 'unsinkable' ship, including the xenophobia, racism and classism they face. At the beginning of the novel, author Stacey Lee explains that there were eight real-life Chinese passengers on the Titanic, of whom six survived. While ...
Cultural Recognition of the Tulsa Race Massacre (06/21)
In The Ground Breaking, Scott Ellsworth notes that for many Americans, the first exposure they received to the events of 1921 in Tulsa came from a dramatic portrayal on an episode of the HBO series Watchmen that aired October 20, 2019. The show received credit for spurring a renewed interest in the Tulsa Race Massacre in the lead up to ...
Village de L'Est and Hurricane Katrina (06/21)
When the Vietnamese family depicted in Things We Lost to the Water arrives in New Orleans, they move into an apartment building called Versailles located in the eastern part of the city. The setting is based on the real-life Versailles Arms public housing project in the neighborhood of Village de L'Est, which attracted a large Vietnamese ...
Real-Life Forgers of World War II (06/21)
While Eva, the gifted young Jewish forger in Kristin Harmel's The Book of Lost Names, may be a fictional character, the work she did and the risks she took were realities during World War II. Two of the more notable forgers — heroes who saved hundreds of Jewish lives — were Adolfo Kaminsky (1925-) and Alice Cohn (1914-2000).

...
Elizabeth Peratrovich and the Anti-Discrimination Act of 1945 (06/21)
In Of Bears and Ballots, Heather Lende reflects on the contributions of Elizabeth Peratrovich to Alaskan history during a community event celebrating the activist's life.

Elizabeth Peratrovich (1911-1958) worked tirelessly to achieve equality for Alaskan Natives. Those familiar with Peratrovich likely know of her role in passing the ...
Caribbean Immigration to the United States (06/21)
In Saint X by Alexis Schaitkin, one of the main characters is a Caribbean immigrant working as a taxi driver in New York City. While the island depicted in the novel is fictional, people hailing from the Caribbean make up a large portion of the immigrant population in the U.S.

The individual islands in the Caribbean are all distinct in...
Sterilization or Genocide? Eugenics in North Carolina (06/21)
In The Unfit Heiress, Audrey Clare Farley sets the case of San Francisco socialite Ann Cooper Hewitt against the backdrop of the American eugenics movement. In the age of eugenics, which lasted approximately from the 1920s to the 1940s, 30 states embraced laws allowing involuntary sterilization. North Carolina was one of the worst, partly...
Belle da Costa Greene (07/21)
Belle da Costa Greene was an American librarian who ran the private library belonging to banker John Pierpont Morgan (better known as J.P. Morgan) and later to his son. During her time working for the Morgans, Greene acquired many rare books, manuscripts and other items for her employers, ultimately contributing to what is now an ...
Classical Music and the Cultural Revolution (06/21)
In Swimming Back to Trout River, Dawn and Momo are united by their love of music during the turbulent years of the Cultural Revolution, particularly Western classical music. There is a special significance attached to a bust of Beethoven within the novel. Beethoven was seen as a revolutionary symbol throughout 20th century China, since ...
The Guatemalan Civil War (06/21)
The narrator of Francisco Goldman's autobiographical novel Monkey Boy, like Goldman himself, was a journalist who reported on the Guatemalan Civil War. The brutal war began in 1960 and lasted a total of 36 years. Over 200,000 were killed or 'disappeared,' more than 600 villages were attacked or completely destroyed by the army and 150 ...
Kurdish Women Fight for Freedom (05/21)
Kurdistan is a mountainous region that includes parts of Turkey, Iran, Iraq, Syria and Armenia. The Kurds' territory was first partitioned between the Ottoman and Safavid Empires in the 17th century. The 1923 Treaty of Lausanne at the end of World War I divided the region into its current configuration. Despite its geographic size and a ...
John Wycliffe and Lollardy (05/21)
In Mary Sharratt's historical novel Revelations, the protagonist is tried for heresy when suspected of preaching the tenets of Lollardy, a medieval religious movement that deviated from the Roman Catholic Church's approved doctrine.

At the beginning of the 16th century, Roman Catholicism was the dominant religion in Europe, led by a ...
Mabel Dodge Luhan (05/21)
Rachel Cusk reveals through a note at the end of her novel Second Place that the book is based on Lorenzo in Taos, a 1932 memoir by Mabel Dodge Luhan recounting the time the author D.H. Lawrence spent with her in Taos, New Mexico. Luhan, whose full name was Mabel Ganson Evans Dodge Sterne Luhan (as the result of multiple marriages), was a...
The Red Cross in World War II (04/21)
The Red Cross is one of the aid organizations that plays a role in Monica Hesse's novel, They Went Left. Because so much of Europe was decimated after the war — phone service and many railways had been largely disrupted, for example — the Red Cross provided more than just medical care to Holocaust survivors, wounded soldiers ...
The WASPs Fight for Recognition (04/21)
Katherine Sharp Landdeck's The Women with Silver Wings chronicles the experiences of the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs) that flew planes across the U.S. during World War II, bringing aircraft and supplies to military bases and even training male pilots that would later fly in combat. They also tested out new bomber planes when the ...
The Murder of Freda Ward (04/21)
In Carmen Maria Machado's memoir In the Dream House, she writes of her abusive relationship with another woman and the lack of scholarship and cultural representations available on the subject of abuse in queer relationships in general. Having researched the subject exhaustively, she provides snapshots of examples throughout the book, ...
The Demographic Impact of Colonialism in the Americas (04/21)
In the United States, the term 'colonies' typically conjures images of pilgrims eking out homesteads and log cabins in the woods, or soldiers in tri-cornered hats fighting the mighty British at the birth of the American republic. Yet, the colonization of the 'New World,' as Europeans called it, began well before these early settlements in...
Mademoiselle in the Days of Betsy Talbot Blackwell and the Barbizon (04/21)
I may well be the only woman who regrets not having lived in the early and middle decades of the 20th century. Sure, a woman was barely respected in her own kitchen, but she lived in the days when you still got dressed up to go to the grocery store. She lived in the days when there was still money in writing, when flight attendants passed...
The Woman's Peace Party (04/21)
In The Women of Chateau Lafayette, New York socialite and war supporter Beatrice Ashley Chanler is often at odds with the Woman's Peace Party (WPP), an organization that opposed war in general and the United States' entry into World War I in particular.

Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia on July 28, 1914, sparking a conflict that ...
Impact of the Blizzard of 1978 on the Northeastern U.S. (04/21)
Jack Livings' debut novel The Blizzard Party revolves around an incident that occurs during the historic 'Blizzard of '78,' a massive storm that hit the northeastern United States February 5-7, 1978, burying New England, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and the New York metropolitan area under feet of snow. (This was a particularly harsh winter, ...
The Black Dahlia Murder (04/21)
In Windhall, the murder of Hollywood starlet Eleanor Hayes is the unsolved crime of the century. Eleanor's friend and movie director Theodore Langley was initially accused of the crime, but he was never charged, and speculation abounds as to what exactly happened on that unfortunate night. Although Eleanor Hayes and her murder are ...
Cassandra Austen (1773-1845) (03/21)
Gill Hornby's novel Miss Austen explores Jane Austen's life through the point of view of her beloved older sister, Cassandra. Cassandra is thought to have been Jane's closest companion and confidante. The two were inseparable to the extent that their mother reportedly once commented, 'If Cassandra's head had been going to be cut off, Jane...
Land Reforms in North Vietnam (1953-1956) (03/21)
The Mountains Sing by Nguyễn Phan Quế is set against the backdrop of several decades in Northern Vietnam, including the period from 1945 to 1976 when it was an independent state known as the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV). This was a time of extraordinary hardship brought about by factors related to shifts in political ...
The League of German Girls (03/21)
The socio-political climate of Christina Dalcher's Master Class mirrors, to an extent, that of Germany during its early years under the influence of the Nazi Party. Dalcher draws overt comparisons between the educational proclivities of the Nazis and those of the book's fictional state, which seeks to establish intellectual, political and...
The Crusader States of Outremer (1087-1272) (03/21)
Sharon Kay Penman's novel The Land Beyond the Sea is set in the Middle Ages in a region known as Outremer (pronounced OO-tray-mare). This collection of European-held city-states was formed during the First Crusade and comprised of the Kingdom of Jerusalem, the County of Edessa, the County of Tripoli and the Principality of Antioch.

...
Family Separation During the Holocaust (03/21)
In Jennifer Rosner's The Yellow Bird Sings, which takes place in Poland during WWII, Róza and her daughter Shira are forced to hide from the Nazis. After already losing other family members, Róza must decide whether or not to send Shira into hiding on her own in order to protect her. While members of Jewish families were often ...
Remembering the Victims of the Vardø Witch Trials (03/21)
For such a small and remote community, Vardø has endured more than its share of tragedy. In 1617, the small fishing town found at the easternmost point of Norway was hit by a violent storm. Its arrival was so sudden and devastating, it all but wiped out the male population, leaving behind a community of shell shocked women and ...
The Vietnamese French (03/21)
In The Committed, Vo Danh immigrates to Paris in order to escape danger. As the illegitimate child born from sexual abuse between a French priest and a Vietnamese woman, Vo Danh is a metaphor for the rape of Vietnam perpetrated by French colonialism. He goes back to his fatherland to confront the post-Vietnam War legacy and how it ...
The Rajneesh Movement (03/21)
Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, also known as Osho, was born on December 11, 1931 in Kuchwada, India as Chandra Mohan Jain. He was given the name Rajneesh, meaning 'god of night,' at six months. He took an interest in religion from a young age and eventually found work as a philosophy instructor, but in 1966 resigned from his position at the ...
Ghost Girls (Radium Girls) (02/21)
In Laird Hunt's book Zorrie, the title character takes a job painting watch dials with illuminating radium in Ottawa, Illinois. The women employed by the company think it's great fun to glow all night after their shifts, and even smuggle extra vials of glow-in-the-dark paint home to create designs on themselves.

During World War I, ...
Operation Condor (02/21)
The action in Daniel Loedel's debut novel, Hades, Argentina, is propelled by a clandestine South American military campaign known as Operation Condor.

Operation Condor's roots can be traced back to the mid-1960s, when Che Guevara left Cuba to spread socialist doctrine throughout South America, advocating the violent overthrow of the ...
The Truth Behind Helen of Troy and the Trojan War (02/21)
The story of the Trojan War, fought between the Greeks and the people of Troy, has been told and retold for thousands of years. This is in large part thanks to the efforts of Homer, the ancient Greek poet who penned the Iliad and Odyssey, recordings of epic stories set during and after the war. Legendary figure Helen of Troy plays a ...
Jim Thorpe (02/21)
In The Removed, Edgar visits a mysterious town called the Darkening Land, where his high school friend Jackson tells him about a video game he's designing featuring the Native athlete Jim Thorpe. Thorpe was a multi-sport talent, notable for his careers in baseball and football, along with competing in the 1912 Olympics in Stockholm in ...
Rick Ankiel (02/21)
Rick Ankiel was born in 1979 in Fort Pierce, Florida. At an early age, he threw himself into baseball as a way of escaping a tumultuous and often violent home life. In 1997, as a pitcher for Port St. Lucie High School, he was named 'High School Player of the Year' by USA Today. By his major league baseball debut with the St. Louis ...
Holocaust Refugees and the British White Papers (04/21)
'To fight or flee?' This is a question the Polish resistance fighters must ask themselves in Judy Batalion's The Light of Days. As the German army advanced across Europe and persecution of the Jews intensified, those who chose to flee had to decide where to go. As their own countries were invaded, some European Jews emigrated to ...
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