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People, Eras & Events

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Sun Yat-sen (12/23)
In the novel The House of Doors, Lesley Hamlyn volunteers as a translator for Sun Yat-sen's political movement in Penang, Malaysia. Sun Yat-sen is one of the foremost figures in Chinese political history. By leading China from an empire to a republic, he also became an important inspiration to other independence movements of twentieth-...
The Women of the Ku Klux Klan (12/23)
Timothy Egan's book A Fever in the Heartland mentions the Women of the Ku Klux Klan, a group of women who were actively aligned with the mission of the KKK during its 1920s resurgence. In 1923, the WKKK formed in Little Rock, Arkansas. The WKKK had chapters in every state and at least 500,000 members over the course of its existence. ...
Conditions for People with Disabilities in 1930s America (12/23)
James McBride's novel The Heaven & Earth Grocery Store follows a community as they work together to save a young deaf Black boy, Dodo, from unjust institutionalization in 1930s America. Though Dodo's disability is physical, the state authorities are determined to place him in a mental institution called Pennhurst. In the context of ...
The Fires of 1970s New York City (12/23)
In her novel Remember Us, author Jacqueline Woodson draws from her own experiences growing up in 1970s New York. Her protagonist's hometown of Bushwick is plagued by housefires, landing it the callous nickname 'The Matchbox.'

Bushwick wasn't the only community affected by numerous fires at the time. Records show that by mid-1974, the ...
Free People of Color and Their Roles in the American Slave Trade (12/23)
In Jesmyn Ward's Let Us Descend, one of Annis's enslavers is a woman. Typically, when people think about enslavers and those perpetuating slavery as a system, they often think about white men. Some may find it surprising that women played a significant role in the slave trade, too. Furthermore, white people were not the only ones who ...
American Entertainers Visiting the Vietnam Warfront (11/23)
In California Golden, Mindy has a transformative experience touring Vietnam during the war that makes her question her chosen career in show business. The Vietnam War was a transformative experience for America in the 1960s, impacting virtually everyone in some way. While the involvement of the United States in Vietnam was a profoundly ...
A Brief Overview of the Good Friday Agreement (11/23)
Francesca McDonnell Capossela's novel Trouble the Living is in part set in Northern Ireland during the waning days of the Troubles, a 30-year period of violence brought mostly to an end by the signing of the Good Friday Agreement on April 10, 1998.

In 1921, at the end of the Irish War of Independence, Ireland was partitioned into ...
Jeanne Lanvin (1867-1946) (11/23)
Noelle Salazar's The Roaring Days of Zora Lily follows a fictional aspiring fashion designer living in Seattle in the 1920s. But who were the real fashion designers of the day? In Salazar's novel, Zora wants to have a career like Coco Chanel and Jeanne Lanvin. While most American readers have likely heard of the Chanel brand and its ...
The Jane Collective (10/23)
Kerri Maher's novel All You Have to Do Is Call fictionalizes the story of the real-life Jane Collective, an underground abortion network that operated in Chicago during the late 1960s and early '70s before abortion was legalized with the passing of Roe v. Wade in 1973. The organization was founded by Heather Booth, who as a college ...
General James Oglethorpe (10/23)
In The Kingdoms of Savannah, author George Dawes Green describes General James Oglethorpe as a 'jewel of a man, a rare nonmonster in Savannah history.' Indeed, Oglethorpe was unique in the context of 1700s British imperialism: a champion of the oppressed who fought against the powerful in issues ranging from prison abuse to slavery to the...
Enslavement in Canada (10/23)
The nonfiction book Flee North recounts how activist and writer Thomas Smallwood encouraged the enslaved individuals he helped escape to relocate to Canada, where slavery was illegal, rather than remaining in the United States, where they might be returned to captivity if caught. Smallwood himself settled in Toronto with his family in ...
The Poor Clares of Sant'Orsola Convent (10/23)
In Natasha Solomons' novel Fair Rosaline, the eponymous heroine is destined for life in a convent – specifically Sant'Orsola in Mantua, Italy. Margherita Gonzaga d'Este, a wealthy widow, commissioned the convent in the early 17th century, sparing no expense; she hired architect and artist Antonio Maria Viani to design the building, ...
The Execution of Charles I (10/23)
When it comes to the execution of English royalty, perhaps the most famous are the two wives of Henry VIII who met their ends at the Tower of London — Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard. The double execution of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette by guillotine in France is equally if not more famous, and countless other royals have ...
The United Fruit Company: The Scourge of Central and South America (10/23)
In Where There Was Fire, the neighborhood that is the central setting in the 1968 timeline is home to a banana plantation run by a fictional corporation called American Fruit Company, based loosely on the real-life United Fruit Company (UFC). United Fruit (which has since become Chiquita) had plantations in Colombia, Guatemala, Honduras, ...
The French East India Companies (09/23)
In David Diop's novel Beyond the Door of No Return, French botanist Michel Adanson journeys across 18th-century Senegal to discover the fate of a woman who was kidnapped. At the time of the story, much of the area was either directly or indirectly under the control of the French East India Company, a less-known competitor to the ...
Women's Influence in the British Abolition Movement (09/23)
In The Fraud, Eliza's lover Frances is a passionate abolitionist whose commitment to the cause infects Eliza with a similar sense of urgency. Britain's Slavery Abolition Act was passed in 1833, freeing at least 800,000 people from bondage in the Caribbean, South America, and Canada. The act followed decades of campaigns from abolitionist ...
1940 U.S. Presidential Candidate Wendell Willkie (09/23)
The Golden Gate by Amy Chua begins with the murder of Walter Wilkinson, who is a fictionalized version of Wendell Willkie, a Republican presidential candidate who lost to Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1940. Wilkinson and Willkie both died in 1944, but their cause of death was vastly different — Willkie died of a heart attack instead of ...
A'isha bint Abu Bakr (09/23)
In Jamila Ahmed's Every Rising Sun, Shaherazade remembers a story from the life of A'isha, third wife of the Prophet Muhammad. While traveling with her husband, she was separated from the group and became lost in the desert. Another man found her and helped her back to Medina, but she was unjustly accused of adultery as a ...
The Santo Tomas POW camp (09/23)
In Valiant Women, author Lena S. Andrews features the true stories of women serving in the U.S. Armed Forces during World War II. Among the women profiled is Navy nurse Dorothy Still, who was working in the Philippines when World War II broke out. She was taken prisoner by the Japanese and sent to Santo Tomas internment camp, where she ...
The Erasure of Eileen Blair from Orwell's Homage to Catalonia (09/23)
Readers might be forgiven if, in reading George Orwell's Homage to Catalonia, they miss the fact that his first wife, Eileen Blair, was in Spain with him, working for the Republican resistance against Franco's fascist forces. As Anna Funder points out in Wifedom: Mrs. Orwell's Invisible Life, when George does refer to her, he does not ...
White Rose (09/23)
White Rose Public Memorial: Display of leaflets fanned out on ground with bouquet of white flowers on top In Ian McEwan's Lessons, Roland Baines, a member of the English baby boomer generation, who 'as they turned adult' began 'to wonder at the dangers they never had to face,' contrasts his own achievements disparagingly with his German father-in-law's association with the White Rose anti-Nazi movement during World War II. This nonviolent...
Vietnamese Refugees in Orange County (08/23)
After the South Vietnamese capital of Saigon fell to North Vietnamese military forces in April 1975, hundreds of thousands of South Vietnamese escaped to American ships off the coast, either by boat or helicopter. In Alan Drew's The Recruit, the character Bao Phan is one of these refugees. The International Rescue Committee (IRC) ...
The Civil Rights Movement in Maine (08/23)
Rachel Eliza Griffiths' debut novel Promise is set in Maine at a time when the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s was spreading to that state. Racial tensions were rising as white folks who resented calls for equality began viewing the presence of Blacks, no matter how few, as a threat to their existence.

Although racism...
The 2009 Urumqi Riots and Mass Detention of Uyghurs (08/23)
As Tahir Hamut Izgil recounts in his memoir, Waiting to be Arrested at Night: A Uyghur Poet's Memoir of China's Genocide, treatment of Uyghurs in China has changed dramatically in the last decade. In earlier years, ethnic-minority Uyghurs were no strangers to persecution by Han Chinese, as Izgil himself experienced with an arbitrary ...
Guerrilla Groups in the Ethiopian Civil War (08/23)
In The History of a Difficult Child, the Asmelash family turns to the radio for news about Ethiopia's revolutionary government, the Derg, which formed in 1974: they listen to reports about the famine in northern Ethiopia, charges by Human Rights International of human rights abuses by Chairman Mengistu, and, as the years pass, updates ...
The Abolition of Slavery in the Caribbean (08/23)
The Slavery Abolition Act, also known as the Emancipation Act, was an act of Parliament that legally abolished slavery in most British colonies. The act received Royal Assent on August 28, 1833, and took effect the following year on August 1. In Eleanor Shearer's debut novel, River Sing Me Home, this event serves as a catalyst for the ...
The Nazis and the German Auto Industry (08/23)
In Paul Murray's novel The Bee Sting, Dickie Barnes is the reluctant owner of a failing Volkswagen dealership. One character provokes Dickie's teenage daughter Cass by telling her that Volkswagen was started by the Nazis, so it's no great loss if the dealership shuts down. And it's true that even though these days Volkswagen might be best...
The Este Dynasty of Ferrara, Italy (08/23)
In The Marriage Portrait, Maggie O'Farrell captures the dark personality of Alfonso II d'Este, Duke of Ferrara (a region in northern Italy), who lived from 1533 to 1597. Alfonso was the last in his family lineage, which stretched back to the 13th century. As monarchs around the world have experienced throughout history, a lack of male ...
Wilhelm Reich and the Orgone Energy Accumulator (08/23)
In Edan Lepucki's novel Time's Mouth, one of the time travelers enhances their power using an obscure invention by a Viennese psychologist, Wilhelm Reich.

Wilhelm Reich (1897-1957) was born in what is now Ukraine to Jewish parents, both of whom died when Reich was a child. After enlisting in the Austrian army during World War I, he ...
The Great Spokane Falls Fire of 1889 (08/23)
Fire Season is set in the late 1880s and features a historical backdrop of immense changes — both metaphorical and literal — in Spokane Falls, Washington. It was a time when Washington was seeking statehood and the legitimacy that came along with this designation, and the Great Spokane Falls Fire could have put the territory's...
Anglo-Saxon Law (08/23)
In Dark Earth, sisters Isla and Blue attempt to claim protection from a warlord under the laws of sixth century England, while also hiding the fact that they've broken those laws. This part of British history was a time of transition, and the laws of the land were no exception to that. Starting in the fifth century, Germanic peoples ...
Lem Billings and the Kennedys (07/23)
Jackie & Me, Louis Bayard's historical novel about the early days of courtship between John F. Kennedy and Jackie Kennedy (née Bouvier) is narrated by JFK's real-life best friend, Lem Billings. The two men met as boys while attending prep school at Choate Rosemary Hall in Wallingford, Connecticut.

Kirk LeMoyne 'Lem' Billings was ...
The Motion Picture Production Code (Hays Code) (07/23)
In Anthony Marra's novel Mercury Pictures Presents, the main characters struggle to ensure their movies adhere to the Motion Picture Production Code.

In the early years of the 20th century, as motion pictures were becoming increasingly available to the American public, some segments of the population expressed the opinion they ...
V-E Day (07/23)
Patrick deWitt's The Librarianist depicts main character Bob Comet's childhood experience of being driven home by a sheriff, after having run away, on the day that officially marked the end of World War II.

May 8, 1945 is the day when German troops throughout Europe surrendered to the Allies, and is known as V-E Day (Victory in Europe...
Archibald McIndoe (06/23)
The Facemaker by Lindsey Fitzharris tells the story of Harold Gillies, a brilliant surgeon and visionary who helped pioneer the field of facial reconstruction during World War I. Through his dedication and innovation, Gillies not only restored the faces of countless soldiers, he also laid the foundation for future reconstructive work and ...
Søren Kierkegaard (06/23)
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 ...
Sidi Mubarak Bombay (06/23)
Candice Millard's River of the Gods recounts the harrowing expeditions of Richard Burton and John Speke, two British explorers sent to find the source of the Nile River. Burton's name was well known before these ventures, but Speke became famous for being the first to discover the Nile's headwaters, and both men subsequently gained infamy...
Nicolae Ceauşescu (1918-1989) (06/23)
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 Handover of Hong Kong (06/23)
Ghost Girl, Banana takes place partly in Hong Kong in the summer of 1997, a setting intentionally chosen by the author for symbolic reasons, representing the inner conflict of the main character who is of Hong Kong descent but grew up in the UK, raised by her English father. This was the summer Hong Kong was 'returned' to the rule of the ...
Kate Meyrick (05/23)
In an Author's Note in her novel Shrines of Gaiety, Kate Atkinson reveals that the real-life inspiration for her character Nellie Coker was Kate Meyrick, the impresario known as the 'Queen of Nightclubs.' Much like Atkinson's character, 'Ma' Meyrick built an empire of sorts during the Jazz Age, owning and operating a string of clubs in ...
The U.S. Dakota War of 1862 (05/23)
Much of Susanna Moore's The Lost Wife is set during the five-week conflict in Minnesota that came to be known as the U.S.-Dakota War. According to the University of Minnesota's Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, 'The conflict can be viewed as one of the genocidal efforts to forcibly remove the Dakota from Minnesota.'

Starting ...
Sterilization or Genocide? Eugenics in North Carolina (05/23)
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...
The Oakland Police Department Trafficks a Teenager (05/23)
As she explains in her Author's Note, Leila Mottley based Nightcrawling loosely on real events involving a teenage sex worker who was sexually exploited for months by members of the Oakland Police Department. The girl is known as Celeste Guap in court documents. According to her, she began 'dating' Officer Brendan O'Brien in February of ...
Germany's War Children (05/23)
In Fatherland, New Yorker staff writer Burkhard Bilger chronicles his quest to understand his maternal grandfather's Nazi past—a past shrouded in mystery despite the fact that Bilger's mother, born in 1935, was old enough at the time to have memories of World War II and her father's role in it.

She remembered her father wearing ...
Semiramis, Queen of Assyria (04/23)
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...
Tawaifs (04/23)
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-...
Sybil Neville-Rolfe (1885-1955) (04/23)
Dr. Agnes Vogel, The Foundling's complicated eugenicist arch-villain, has many real analogues in history. As the eugenics movement bloomed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, women played an instrumental role in how its ideas took shape. In Britain, Sybil Neville-Rolfe (née Sybil Burney) was the founder of the Eugenics ...
The Sierra Leone Resettlement Scheme (04/23)
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 Story of Tunnel 29 (04/23)
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 ...
Naturalist Ernest Harold Baynes (03/23)
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 ...
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