Feature

Dolen Perkins-Valdez's 6 favorite historical novels

The best-selling author recommends works by Stephanie Dray, Yaa Gyasi, and more

In Dolen Perkins-Valdez's new novel, Take My Hand, a Black nurse looks back with regret to 1970s Alabama and to two teenage girls she tried to help. Below, the author of the 2010 best-seller Wench recommends six other recent historical novels.

The Great Mrs. Elias by Barbara Chase-Riboud (2022)

Chase-Riboud, an acclaimed sculptor and author of the 1979 novel Sally Hemings, has written six historical novels about "invisible" Black women. Here, her inspiration is Hannah Elias, a sex worker who rose out of poverty to become a millionaire property owner and stock investor in early 1900s New York City. Buy it here.

The Women of Chateau Lafayette by Stephanie Dray (2021)

I love putting my trust in the hands of a top-tier historical researcher. It's even better when that person writes a captivating story inspired by important women who do not occupy a central place in the history books. This novel, set in France and spanning three wars, is ambitious and satisfying on so many levels. Buy it here.

The Lioness by Chris Bohjalian (2022)

Bohjalian always combines gorgeous prose with suspense and extensive research. I just read his latest, due in May, which may be his best yet. In 1964, a group led by a Hollywood actress is on a safari in Tanzania when they're taken hostage by Russian mercenaries. What happens next will keep you up reading all night. Buy it here.

The Personal Librarian by Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray (2021)

This novel revisits the life of Belle da Costa Greene, who passed as white when she was hired as J.P. Morgan's personal librarian and then became director of the Pierpont Morgan Library. She became a well-known tastemaker but lived with the terrible burden of keeping her African-American heritage a secret. Buy it here.

Book of the Little Axe by Lauren Francis-Sharma (2020)

This majestic novel sweeps across four decades, from 18th-century Trinidad to the 1830s American West. At the heart of the story is Rosa Rendón, a woman whose intrepidity reminds me that women of the past often possessed remarkable audacity. Buy it here.

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi (2016)

This novel is a master study in how to draw a line between historical stories and contemporary ones, even when that thread is frustratingly jagged. The characters in Homecoming are generational, traced from West Africa all the way to contemporary Black America. This book is unabashedly ambitious, but Gyasi nails it. Buy it here.

This article was first published in the latest issue of The Week magazine. If you want to read more like it, you can try six risk-free issues of the magazine here.

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