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People, Eras & Events

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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 ...
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.

...
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 ...
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 ...
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 ...
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 ...
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 ...
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 ...
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 ...
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 ...
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 ...
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 ...
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 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, ...
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 ...
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 ...
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...
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).

...
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 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 ...
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 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.

...
Jonathan Wild: The Thief-Taker General (01/21)
In The Hocus Girl, set in the Northern England city of Leeds in the early 19th century, the three protagonists are thief-takers. They're hired to reclaim stolen property in exchange for a reward from the person who had been robbed. They acted as intermediaries, using their connections and intimidation techniques to get justice for crime ...
The Tiananmen Square Massacre (01/21)
One of the largest public squares in the world, Tiananmen Square lies in the heart of Beijing. It's named after a monumental gate built in the 1400s leading into the Forbidden City; Tiananmen means 'Gate of Heavenly Place.' Despite the serene undertones of the name, however, Tiananmen Square has long been a site of political unrest and ...
The Bombing of the Café de Paris (12/20)
Erik Larson's The Splendid and the Vile recalls how the Café de Paris, a London nightclub, was bombed shortly before Winston Churchill's daughter, Mary, arrived there for a planned night of dancing.

The incident, which killed at least 34 people and wounded many others, was part of the Blitz, a prolonged bombing effort carried out...
Operation Babylift (11/20)
In April 1975, thousands of American troops, civilians and South Vietnamese refugees were frantically airlifted out of Saigon, representing the end of American military involvement in the Vietnam War. The images of the rescue were seared into the public consciousness.

The U.S. government felt that something good had to come out of all ...
The Luddite Protests (11/20)
In one narrative thread of Jeanette Winterson's Frankissstein, Mary and Percy Shelley and Lord Byron discuss the rebellion of the Luddites, a secret organization in early 19th century England that destroyed textile machinery in protest of automated looms taking jobs from hand-weavers. The uprising began on March 11, 1811, in Nottingham ...
The Fusil Gras (Wujigra) in Ethiopia (10/20)

In The Shadow King by Maaza Mengiste, Hirut has a particular attachment to a rifle that her father gave her, a Wujigra, which she goes out of her way to retrieve after Kidane takes it away from her while stockpiling weapons for his army. 'Wujigra' is the Ethiopian term for the Fusil Gras, a French service rifle that was manufactured...

Robert Capa (10/20)
In The Fountains of Silence, Daniel is a budding photojournalist who admires the work of Robert Capa.  Capa, born Endre Erno Friedmann in Hungary, experienced first-hand the rise of Hitler and Nazism. After studying photography in Paris and meeting kindred spirit Gerda Pohorylle (better known by her pseudonym Gerda Taro), he ...
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