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Beyond the Book Articles
People, Eras & Events

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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 ...
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 ...
Educational Reforms in the Austrian Empire Under Maria Theresa (11/21)
By the mid-1700s, Maria Theresa, Queen of Hungary and Bohemia and Empress of the Holy Roman Empire, had suffered a significant military defeat at the hands of Prussia's King Frederick II. In the aftermath, she sought to modernize and improve her army to match that of her rival, and that included upgrading military education to focus on ...
Myles Standish and the Defense of the Plymouth Colony (11/21)
Beheld takes place in 1630 at the Plymouth settlement in what would later become Massachusetts and features several characters taken from the real-life history of the colony. One of these is Myles Standish, a decorated soldier who arrived in 1620 on the Mayflower with the first group of English pilgrims and served as Plymouth's head of ...
Vietnam War Draft Lottery (10/21)
One of the ethical debates presented in Jonathan Frazen's Crossroads concerns the United States' use of the draft to supplement its troops during the Vietnam War.

Conscription, commonly known as the draft in the United States, is a term of mandatory enlistment in national service, generally in a country's military. It's been employed ...
Simone Weil (1909-1943) (10/21)
What Are You Going Through by Sigrid Nunez takes its title from the writing of Simone Weil, an influential French philosopher and intellectual whose work was unusual for incorporating both left-leaning politics and religious traditions.

Weil was born in Paris on February 3, 1909 to agnostic Jewish parents. Her family was well-off and ...
Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) (10/21)
The plot of Jess Walter's novel, The Cold Millions, revolves around the actions of the newly-formed Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) in Spokane, Washington in 1909.

The groundwork for the IWW was laid by the American Federation of Labor (AFL), a union formed in Columbus, Ohio in 1886. That organization's purpose was to ensure ...
The 1918 Flu Pandemic (10/21)
Often referred to as the Spanish Flu, the 1918 flu pandemic is one of the deadliest viral outbreaks the world has ever seen. Hitting its peak at the tail-end of World War I, record-keeping was poor by modern standards, but it is estimated that some 500 million people (about a quarter of the world's population at the time) became infected ...
The Electrification of Rural Ireland (10/21)
The personal events of Niall Williams's This Is Happiness are sparked by the impending arrival of electricity to Faha, a tiny hamlet in rural Ireland. The gradual electrification of this largely rural country was a decades-long process that extended over much of the middle part of the 20th century and that has been called the Quiet ...
The Parchman Ordeal (10/21)
Richard Grant's The Deepest South of All examines the aftermath of slavery in the Deep South through the lens of Natchez, Mississippi. One clear inference that can be made from his Natchezian narratives is that the past must be confronted before it can lay dormant in its grave. Unfortunately, history is often written with its authors ...
POW Camps in the U.S. During World War II (09/21)
In Leah Weiss's All the Little Hopes, the Brown family's North Carolina farm receives an influx of laborers in the form of captured German soldiers sent from the nearby prisoner-of-war (POW) camp. Some readers may be surprised to learn that there were many such camps in the United States during World War II, and that it was not uncommon ...
Eleanor of Aquitaine (09/21)
In Lauren Groff's novel Matrix, the protagonist Marie (based on 12th century poet Marie de France) spends the majority of her life pining for Eleanor of Aquitaine. This real-life queen of France and England serves as Marie's foil and the source of considerable turmoil, as both women seek to hold and maintain power over their very ...
Royal Succession in the Ottoman Empire (09/21)
When we think about royal succession, we typically think of princes, and European history is rife with dramatic steps that monarchs took to ensure they had a male heir. But this devotion to primogeniture, or the succession of the oldest son, was not universal in the early modern world. So, while Henry VIII was upending his entire kingdom ...
Margaret Sanger and the Founding of Planned Parenthood (09/21)
In 1916 in a poor Brooklyn neighborhood, three women opened a clinic providing information about birth control. Despite the fact that birth control has existed in various forms for millennia, at the time it was illegal to share such information, and within 10 days the clinic was shut down and the three women — Margaret Sanger, Ethel...
Ronaldinho: The Savior of FC Barcelona (08/21)
Readers of Barcelona Dreaming will notice that soccer player Ronaldinho is mentioned frequently throughout the novel. Although not one of the chief protagonists, his presence in Barcelona — and by extension in the lives of the book's characters — is a constant.

Who is Ronaldinho and why does he feature so significantly in ...
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...
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 ...

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 "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 ...
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...
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 ...
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 ...
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 ...
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 ...
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 ...
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 ...
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).

...
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...
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...
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 ...
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 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 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 ...
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 ...
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...
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 ...
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...
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 ...
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 ...
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.

...
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, ...
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