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Beyond the Book Articles
People, Eras & Events

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Elinor Smith (05/22)
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...
The Bielski Partisans (05/22)
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-...
The Sierra Leone Resettlement Scheme (05/22)
In Lianne Dillsworth's novel Theatre of Marvels, a settlement plan resembling the Sierra Leone Resettlement Scheme comes to represent the possibility of a fresh start, freedom and community for the story's heroine, Zillah, and fellow Black people living in Victorian Britain who are struggling to feel like they belong.

Located on the ...
The Guatemalan Civil War (05/22)
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 ...
Naturalist Ernest Harold Baynes (05/22)
In Unlikely Animals, Clive Starling pals around with a hallucination of Ernest Harold Baynes, a real-life figure sometimes called the American Dr. Dolittle. Through his deep reverence for animals, Baynes helped save bison in America, educated the public about songbirds and befriended all manner of creatures.

Born in Calcutta in 1868 ...
Søren Kierkegaard (05/22)
Born in 1813 in Copenhagen, Søren Kierkegaard was a Danish philosopher and theologian best known for his critical discourse on the Christian faith, which solicited both critics and admirers while he was alive. Known today as the 'father of existentialism,' he was one of the first philosophers to delve into themes that would be ...
W.E.B. Du Bois (05/22)
William Edward Burghardt Du Bois (aka W.E.B. Du Bois) was a noted author, historian, activist and sociologist as well as a co-founder of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). His philosophies play an important role throughout Honorée Fannone Jeffers' novel The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois; each ...
The Soviet Atomic Bomb Project (05/22)
In Atomic Anna, the protagonist Anna Berkova is the Soviet Union's top nuclear scientist. Collaborating with famed German chemist Otto Hahn at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Chemistry in Berlin, Anna helps discover nuclear fission, the reaction which serves as the basis for nuclear power. As World War II begins, Anna escapes Germany and...
Village de L'Est and Hurricane Katrina (05/22)
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 ...
A Brief History of Feminist Organizing in Spain (05/22)
A significant part of Elena Medel's The Wonders is devoted to the feminist awakening of the character Maria. She grows up in a poor neighborhood during Spanish dictator Francisco Franco's rule in the 1960s and early '70s, a time of strict gender roles. As Spain moves out of the Francoist era and comes to a new threshold of feminist ...
Mabel Dodge Luhan (05/22)
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...
Tawaifs (05/22)
Aamina Ahmad's debut novel, The Return of Faraz Ali, takes place in 1968 in Lahore's red-light district, and several of the characters are tawaifs — sex workers.

'Tawaif' comes from the Urdu word 'tauf,' which means to go round and round. While the term is considered derogatory now, originally it was one of respect for a highly-...
Joan Miller, Unlikely Spy (04/22)
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 Demographic Impact of Colonialism in the Americas (04/22)
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...
Cocaine Use in the British Military During World War I (04/22)
In his historical novel Two Storm Wood, Philip Gray portrays the reality of World War I mostly from the perspective of a young British officer, showing everything from the gruesome and harrowing details of war to lesser-known facts of everyday life for those serving in it. This reality includes substance use and abuse among troops. Drugs ...
The Murder of Leo LaChance (04/22)
In Lisa Bird-Wilson's novel Probably Ruby, a chapter set in Ruby's teenage years features references to the real-life 1991 murder of a 43-year-old Cree man, Leo LaChance, by a self-proclaimed white supremacist and member of the Ku Klux Klan named Carney Milton Nerland. LaChance was killed in a Prince Albert, Saskatchewan pawn/gun shop on ...
Mademoiselle in the Days of Betsy Talbot Blackwell and the Barbizon (03/22)
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 (03/22)
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 ...
Nicolae Ceauşescu (1918-1989) (03/22)
Ruta Sepetys's young adult novel I Must Betray You tells the story of Cristian Florescu, a Romanian teenager living at the pinnacle of the country's communist era in 1989. Cristian is blackmailed into being an informant for the Securitate, the government's secret police, forcing him to grapple with his guilt at betraying those he cares ...
The Rajneesh Movement (03/22)
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 ...
The Vietnamese French (03/22)
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 Story of Tunnel 29 (03/22)
Wherever borders and barriers exist, resistance and the desire to escape will also be found. In The Berlin Exchange, Joseph Kanon's Cold War espionage thriller, the Berlin Wall looms as a formidable barricade. The book is set in 1963; only months earlier, the miraculous story of Tunnel 29 — so called because of the number of people ...
The Children of Holy Roman Empress Maria Theresa (03/22)
The children of the Holy Roman Empress Maria Theresa form a large part of the cast of Antoinette's Sister by Diana Giovinazzo. This is no surprise: They numbered enough to make up a team roster for many sports, with 10 of 16 surviving to adulthood. Of these, the most famous are her sons Joseph II and Leopold II, both of whom inherited the...
Black Women in the Suffrage Movement (03/22)
A couple of the pieces in Stories from Suffragette City — most notably 'American Womanhood' by Dolen Perkins-Valdez — explore the often forgotten reality that Black and other non-white women were explicitly excluded from the movement for women's suffrage in America.

In the late 19th/early 20th centuries, some Black women ...
Olga Romanov (03/22)
Bryn Turnbull's historical novel The Last Grand Duchess narrates the story of Olga Romanov, the eldest child of Tsar Nicholas II and Tsarina Alexandra and granddaughter of England's Queen Victoria. Olga was born in November 1895, and grew up a coddled royal child beloved by her parents and surrounded by servants, nannies and governesses. ...
Impact of the Blizzard of 1978 on the Northeastern U.S. (03/22)
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 U.S. 442nd Infantry Regiment (03/22)
In Traci Chee's young adult historical novel We Are Not Free, which follows 14 Japanese American teens from San Francisco through World War II, two young men in Topaz detention camp, Mas and Twitchy, decide to volunteer for the army. Japanese American men were unable to serve until early 1943; the American government had considered them ...
Mary Read (c. 1695 – 1721) (03/22)
One of the stories in Gwen E. Kirby's collection Shit Cassandra Saw is written in the voice of Mary Read, also known as Mark Read, an English woman who often lived as a man and sailed the seas as a pirate. Little is known for certain about Read — much of what is said about her is taken from Captain Charles Johnson's book A General ...
Sergeant Richard Etheridge's Second Act (02/22)
In Black Cloud Rising, David Wright Faladé introduces a true and fascinating historical figure in Sergeant Richard Etheridge. Born in 1842 along the shores of North Carolina's Roanoke Island, Etheridge was raised as the property of John B. Etheridge until the Civil War and emancipation ended his physical oppression. As the Union ...
Tang Dynasty Poet Yu Xuanji (844-871) (02/22)
Chinese poetry has a long and varied history. The Tang Dynasty (from 618-907) is considered one of the most vibrant cultural periods for poetry and other arts.

In Qui Xiaolong's mystery novel The Shadow of the Empire, set during the Tang Dynasty, detective Judge Dee professes to be a poet, and much of the plot is driven by clues held ...
Women of the Wild West (02/22)
The Hole in the Wall Gang in Anna North's Outlawed — a band made up largely of outcast women who have formed their own family outside of ordinary 19th-century society — may be fictional (despite taking its name from a real gang in the Wild West), but history features many true outlaw women and talented gunslingers.

...
The SCOPE Project (02/22)
Diane Chamberlain's protagonist Ellie Hockley in The Last House on the Street participates in the Summer Community Organization and Political Education (SCOPE) project against the wishes of her family. SCOPE was created in the spring of 1965 under the auspices of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). The SCLC proved to be a...
Semiramis, Queen of Assyria (02/22)
Among the many fascinating anecdotes presented in David Graeber and David Wengrow's The Dawn of Everything, one stood out to me. This was the myth of Semiramis (also known as Sammu-ramat), a woman of low stature who rose to become queen of the empire of Assyria. Graeber and Wengrow mention her in a chapter discussing role reversals, using...
Rick Ankiel (02/22)
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 ...
Apartheid and South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission (02/22)
Damon Galgut's novel The Promise is set in South Africa during the dismantling of the country's apartheid system. In this period, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) was established to deal with the after-effects of apartheid, and the body is mentioned several times throughout the book.

After the National Party took power in ...
Heartbreak Day and Family Separation During American Slavery (01/22)
For American slaves, January 1 was a day to dread. For on that day, many were hired out to new plantations without warning, and some were sold off. Anxiety was rampant the evening before the new year, which was possibly the last time family members would see each other. It was a tumultuous night for parents wondering if their children ...
The Art and Political Imprisonment of Ai Weiwei (01/22)
Ai Weiwei is an influential creator, whose career has given rise to a great variety of works in many mediums. Accordingly, describing him merely as an artist does not do him justice, as he wears many hats, being a visual artist, architect, documentarian and writer. Ultimately, all of his work is underpinned with a strong thread of ...
Life in 1980s China (01/22)
The world of 1980s China depicted in Liu Xinwu's The Wedding Party was a unique and transitory one. Starting after the end of Mao's Cultural Revolution and leading to the infamous Tiananmen Square Massacre of 1989, this was mostly a decade of quiet change.

After the death of Communist leader Mao Zedong in 1976, Mao's successor Hua ...
The Black Dahlia Murder (01/22)
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 ...
Operation Condor (01/22)
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 Japanese Occupation of Korea (1910-1945) (01/22)
Juhea Kim's Beasts of a Little Land covers half a century of Korean history, including the Japanese occupation of Korea. The occupation began in 1910, when Japan annexed the Korean peninsula. This occurred after years of attempts by the Japanese government to exert rule over Korea, due in part to its economic interest in the country's ...
Sumptuary Laws in Early Modern England (01/22)
The heroine of Lucy Jago's A Net for Small Fishes, Anne Turner, has a unique claim to fame: she holds the patent for the saffron-yellow starch that is taking the Jacobean fashion world by storm. Jago beautifully depicts the colorful world of the court at Whitehall, where all the courtiers are constantly trying to outdress each other. ...
The Indian Relocation Act of 1956 (12/21)
In Lightning Strike, William Kent Krueger includes an author's note about the Indian Relocation Act of 1956 (also known as Public Law 959 or the Adult Vocational Training Program), which features as a tragic backdrop to the overall story. According to Krueger, the program was 'the brainchild of a group of men appointed by President Harry ...
The Fall of Constantinople (12/21)
Parts of Anthony Doerr's novel Cloud Cuckoo Land take place during the Fall of Constantinople in 1453 CE. Constantinople (now known as Istanbul) had long been an important trading hub by the time it was officially established by Roman emperor Constantine the Great in 330 CE. The ruler moved his government to the city, and it ...
Belle da Costa Greene (12/21)
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 ...
Colonialism's Ecological Damage in Cyprus (11/21)
In Elif Shafak's The Island of Missing Trees, Kostas, one of the protagonists, can be described as having an intimate love affair with nature. The other characters, including Kostas's daughter, are often puzzled by his eccentric passion for the Earth and the creatures we share it with. Kostas grew up on the island of Cyprus, and he ...
The Spanish Civil War (11/21)
Several of the women highlighted in Judith Mackrell's The Correspondents started their journalistic careers covering the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939).

Spain had been in political turmoil for many years before the war; while the country was still officially a monarchy, a 1923 coup had placed Miguel Primo de Rivera in charge of the ...
Jim Thorpe (11/21)
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 ...
Agatha Christie's First Marriage (11/21)
In The Mystery of Mrs. Christie, Marie Benedict explores mystery writer Agatha Christie's marriage to Archibald Christie through the lens of Agatha's mysterious temporary disappearance in 1926. Many different theories have been proposed as to the exact details regarding how and why the famous author went missing, but no one account of ...
The Truth Behind Helen of Troy and the Trojan War (11/21)
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 ...
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