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8 Riveting New Historical Novels
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8 Riveting New Historical Novels

By kileyturner
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From epic wartime survival stories to 1950s Tanzania, these novels offer perfect escapes and a window on the past.
Aria

Aria

edition:Paperback

National Bestseller
This extraordinary, gripping debut is a rags-to-riches-to-revolution tale about an orphan girl's coming of age in Iran.
"Aria is a feminist odyssey, about a girl in a time of intolerance as the revolution in Iran is breaking out . . . a poised and dramatic historical novel with contemporary relevance." --John Irving
"Here comes a sweeping saga about the Iranian revolution as it explodes--told from the ground level and the centre of chaos. A Doctor Zhivago of Iran." --Margaret …

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Excerpt

Trucks rumbled along the gravel road in the dead of the night, vibrating like a line of ants, thick tarpaulins shaking as engines whirred and wheels lifted dust, fogging the cold February air. Behrouz Bakhtiar closed his eyes. A film of dirt coated the skin covering the thin bones of his face. He watched by moonlight as four eight-wheelers filled with young men from the provinces rolled away.

He would not be driving the young men home as usual. This was the first night of his four days off. He would instead place a cigarette in his mouth, light it with the last match he had in his pocket, and walk home down the red mountain, where earth min­gled with snow, then stride through the city from north to south. This was his Tehran, and he was its secret guardian, the angel perched on the mountaintop counting buildings, trees, lights, and people who walked about like insects, unaware of being watched.

Strange how people are, Behrouz thought, the cigarette between his thin lips. And he began his walk down and through the city just as he had planned, just as he had been anticipating all day. He slid down the slopes effortlessly, taking a drag from his cigarette every once in a while. He whistled when the mood struck him. He had walked this path many times, since he had first learned to drive up the mountain. How old had he been, seventeen? He was thirty-three now, so that made it sixteen years. With time off mul­tiplied by sixteen, that made about four thousand times he had walked up and down the slopes of Darakeh.

Sometimes, of course, the generals gave him permission to drive down and save himself the three-hour walk. And when Behrouz first got married, the general in command had not only encouraged him to drive, he’d let him off early to encourage hus­bandly duties—but not without reminding Behrouz how old his new wife was. “Think that wife of yours’ll be able to handle fresh little you?” the general had said.

Behrouz had married Zahra when he was nineteen, upon his father’s urging. “The Prophet was a boy, his wife was forty when he took her,” his father had said. But Zahra was no prophet’s wife. She was thirty-six, had never married, and had a son, Ahmad, who was the same age as Behrouz. Ahmad hadn’t come to the wedding. That night, when Behrouz asked his new wife where her son was, Zahra replied, “Somewhere in the prison halls.” Then she had forced herself on him.

When he’d first started driving trucks in the army, Behrouz had been more talkative. The soldiers liked him. They would reveal themselves, telling him about their lives on the farms or in small towns. If they were Tehrani boys, they talked about their schools and their girlfriends. The only one who had never opened up was a member of the royal family—a cousin of the king. But Behrouz supposed that was different. He had been ordered not to look the boy in the eyes.

Behrouz had begun learning to drive at sixteen because he wasn’t strong enough to fight, or smart enough to read. His father had taught him the basics. He could have sold bread on the streets like his father, or worked the oil mines like his uncles. But the one time he had suggested this, his father slapped him so hard, Behrouz saw stars for days. And that was the end of that.

Now, as he walked, the red dirt beneath his boots remained frozen. Three nights ago there had been a storm. But now the snow had settled and was packed along the path. The walk wasn’t as bad as he’d expected. He swiftly made it down Darakeh, to the northern tip of Pahlavi Street. Here there were cobblestone roads and the houses were old. He’d heard that the king’s father once lived here.

He walked past the old car parked along the street, searching his pocket in vain for another smoke. A man was walking toward him.

“Could I trouble you for a cigarette?” Behrouz asked. He had learned how to speak politely, like the people did up here. The man pulled out a single smoke from his pack. Behrouz took it and placed it between his lips. The man held out a lighter, its flame flickering in the slight breeze.

“Thank you,” Behrouz said, and began to walk away.

“No money?” the man said.

Behrouz waited.

“No money?” the man asked again.

“You want money for the light?” Behrouz said.

“What do you think?”

Behrouz searched both pockets awkwardly.

“Only kidding. Stupid man.” The man laughed as he walked away.

Behrouz stepped up his pace and cut through alleyways. He knew he was somewhere in Youssef-Abad district, midway through the city. He normally walked the main street, but tonight he felt like a change. Streams of sewer water ran in the gutters, but blos­soming mulberry trees flanked the roads. This district was one of his favourites. He liked the corner shops and the cinema and cafés, which were old but patronized by rich people.

He was staring at the letters on the front of the cinema when he heard the cry—like a cat in pain. He walked closer to where he thought the sound was coming from, but water gurgling in the gutter muffled its location. He crossed into another alley—nothing there. He continued to move from alley to alley, jumping over gut­ters. The more he found nothing, the more urgently he searched. His only help was the moon; there were no lights in the nearby homes; it seemed the rest of the world was asleep.

He finally reached the mulberry tree, which was flanked by rows of garbage. Staring up at him was a pack of wild dogs. He imagined them tearing the tiny creature who had made the sound limb from limb.

He grabbed a stick from the ground and charged. But none of the dogs moved. How long had they been there? As he neared, the dogs sat and watched quietly. At last, Behrouz bent down and lifted the baby into his arms. The dogs sniffed his feet, turned and left.

He sped toward the edge of town, past abandoned buildings in which the poor secretly lived, past stacks of cardboard where the even poorer slept. He wondered how long the child had gone without food. The stores were still closed, but his wife must have bought some milk, he thought frantically.

The baby didn’t look more than three days old. His head hurt. The stars whirled in the sky. At last, not far in the distance, he saw the pale outline of his house.

For three hours, Behrouz sat in his living room, trying to feed the child. He had woken a sleeping neighbour, who had found some milk, though the baby threw up most of it. Now, once again, he dipped the cap of his fountain pen into the bowl of milk beside him on the floor. He held the tiny vessel to the baby’s lips, careful not to tilt it too far. The milk flowed onto her lips, but only a few drops got in. He wiped her face clean with the back of his pinky finger. In a minute, he would try again.

Zahra was sleeping. Her son, Ahmad, out of jail only two days, had left his dirty boots on the kitchen table. He’d landed in prison for cutting someone’s fingers off, and Behrouz knew he would already be back to stealing.

By morning, Behrouz was struggling to keep his eyes open. From the north-facing window, he watched the rising sun. The rays crept toward him, along the floor. In the bedroom, his wife still slept soundly. He got up, walked into her room, and stood at her bedside, the baby to his chest. Zahra lay tightly wrapped in her blan­kets. She was fair-skinned, with straight, fine hair that turned a shade of light brown in summer. She liked to curl it these days, using little plastic rolls.

He returned to the living room and laid the baby gently on the floor. Then he walked quietly back to the bedroom.

“We have to talk,” Behrouz whispered.

Zahra covered her eyes to block the sun. “You’re home. Figured you’d be killing yourself with opium all night.”

“Come with me.” He pulled her out of bed.

In the living room, the baby’s arms and legs shook and she struggled like an overturned insect.
“I think she’s hungry,” Behrouz said. “I gave her some milk, but she hardly drank. She needs to suck it, I think.”

Zahra backed away from the infant. “Where did you find it? Is this some mess of yours we have to fix?” Her voice was sharp.

Behrouz picked up the baby. “Nothing like that,” he said. “Last night in the alley, there was waste all around her. I found her in Youssef-Abad.”

“That’s the North-City,” Zahra said. “What were you doing with those people? Listen to me: You put that baby where you found it so the trash who are her people can take it back.”

“There were dogs around her. I don’t know what they wanted, but—”

“Get it out of my house. And I know you do your own nasty business. You never touch me—as if I were made of fire and would burn you. But men are men. You must be touching somebody.” Zahra grabbed the baby’s face. “Did you take a look at its eyes? They’re blue. I swear on Imam Hossein you’ve brought a blue-eyed devil into my house.”

“Her eyes are green,” Behrouz said.

“No. There’s blue in them. You’ve brought evil into this house, Mr. Bakhtiar.”

Behrouz listened silently as Zahra walked away and into the bed­room, still shouting at him. Fourteen years with her and the rage had only worsened. He looked at the baby. Zahra was right. There was blue in those eyes. He couldn’t think how to comfort her. It had been so easy when he’d been a little boy and would play pretend. He would rock his baby, feed his baby, just like the neighbourhood girls did. And he’d been careful to never let his father know. But now, here was a real baby. The only thing he could think to do was speak to it, human to human. Not human to doll or master to slave. Yes, he would do what humans had always done, from the first crack of life.

“Want me to tell you a story?” he whispered to the little girl. Her wrinkled eyelids were shut tight, as if she would never want to face the world. “Want me to tell you the story of the Tooba Tree?”
Behrouz said again. And so he began, hoping to drown out Zahra’s shouts. “Past the clouds and the sky, way up in heaven, there is a tree, the Tooba Tree, from whose roots spring milk, and honey, and wine.”

“I curse the day I married a boy,” Zahra yelled from the other room.
Behrouz kept on: “Milk to nourish you, honey to sweeten you, wine to take you to the land of dreams.”

Zahra yelled louder. “Think you were my saviour, Mr. Bakhtiar? You only made hell last longer.”
Behrouz lifted the baby closer to his lips and whispered in her ear. “The Tooba Tree belongs to the orphans of heaven, for there is nothing that matters more, my little one.”

He stopped and listened for Zahra again, but she had finished her rant. The baby had opened her eyes but was falling back asleep. “You sang to me from that alley,” he whispered to her, “and I heard your song. Yet if I hadn’t, and if you had not been saved, the Tooba Tree would have been waiting for you and you would have been all right just the same.” Behrouz paused. He wondered if saving the little girl had been the right thing to do after all. But, since he had saved her and forced her into this thing called life, there was one more thing he needed to do.

“I used to love music, you know, when I was a little boy,” he said, putting his pinky finger in the baby’s mouth so she could suckle. “I used to sing, in secret, so my father wouldn’t know. I used to sing arias. Know what they are? Little tales, cries in the night. If you sing an aria, the world will know all about you. It will know your dreams and secrets. Your pains and your loves.”

Behrouz heard Zahra throw a pillow against the bedroom wall, and paused. After a few moments, hearing nothing more, he kept on. “I’ll name you Aria, after all the world’s pains and all the world’s loves,” he said. “It will be as if you had never been aban­doned. And when you open your mouth to speak, all the world will know you.”

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The Ghost Keeper

The Ghost Keeper

edition:Paperback
also available: eBook Paperback

Winner of the HarperCollins/UBC Prize for Best New Fiction, this powerful, sweeping novel set in Vienna during the 1930s and ’40s centres on a poignant love story and a friendship that ends in betrayal.

In the years between the two world wars, Josef Tobak builds a quiet life around his friendships, his beloved wife, Anna, and his devotion to the old Jewish cemeteries of Vienna. Then comes the Anschluss in 1938, and Josef’s world is uprooted. His health disintegrates. His wife and child are fo …

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Strangers with the Same Dream

Strangers with the Same Dream

edition:Paperback
also available: Hardcover

A brilliant, astonishing and politically timely page-turner set in 1921 Palestine, from the author of the bestselling novel Far to Go, nominated for the Man Booker Prize.

This beautifully written, shocking and timely novel whisks us back to 1921, when a band of young Jewish pioneers set out to realize a dream: the founding of a settlement on a patch of land that would, twenty-five years later, become Israel. One by one, we enter the minds of three compelling characters--Ida, an idealistic young w …

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With My Back to the World

With My Back to the World

edition:Paperback

In an ambitious, yet intimate novel set in Taos, New Mexico, and Hamilton, Ontario, Sally Cooper explores unexpected motherhood, creativity, race, love and faith. With My Back to the World tells the stories of three women: Rudie, who is editing a documentary in Hamilton in 2010; historical artist Agnes Martin, who decides in 1974 after seven years' exile in New Mexico to begin painting again; and Ellen, a black woman burying her husband in 1870 on an Ontario homestead. Each of these women is wai …

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Children of the Moon

Children of the Moon

edition:Hardcover
also available: Paperback

From celebrated author Anthony De Sa comes a raw and compelling novel of love, war and the heartbreaking effects of memory.

"'You must listen to my words. You must promise to tell my story the way I have shared it with you.'"

Tanzania, 1956. A Maasai woman gives birth to a child with albinism. The child is seen as a curse upon her tribe, and so begins Pó's tumultuous story. As Pó navigates the world, she must claim her life in the face of violence and ostracism.

Further south, in Portuguese-cont …

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Excerpt

Standing in the shadow of my balcony, I look beyond the hotel grounds to where the brown mouth of the Buzi River meets the Beira harbour, then out, out towards the open sea.

“I was born near the mountain of two peaks. White men called it Kilimanjaro.”

Serafim sits in a chair in my room and listens to my words. He is a journalist from Brazil, sent here, to Beira, to record my story for National Geographic. I know very little about him, except that I am comforted by the scritch-scratch of his pencil on paper and the crinkles around his eyes.

“My people, the Maasai, have always called that place Oldoinyo Oibor—White Mountain. They say the snowy peak, Kibo, is the house where all gods live.”

“Do you believe in God?” Serafim asks.

“There are no gods left. They have been driven off the moun­tain. If they ever were there.”

I turn slightly because I am curious to see his reaction. His face is down, looking at his hand move his pencil over paper. He is fifty—a solid man, his body strong and straight, his once-compact frame still visible under a layer of fat. His hair, the colour of warm sand, is parted on the side. Grease tames it into waves. His brown eyes are set close together and float above his small nose, made smaller by his bushy moustache. He needs a shave.

Serafim adjusts himself on the chair, the same chair he has been sitting on during this past week, ever since he arrived. He sat patiently, interviewing those I had invited to speak to him. They were mostly women and children, the men unwilling to trust an outsider and reluctant to share their stories of fear with another man.

Serafim clears his throat. He pinches the cigarette that rests in the ashtray and draws in the smoke. It comes out his nose in two streams that slow, then curl together.

“Is that why you are here? Looking for gods?” It is too late to soften the edges of my words, but I know he does not care whether I believe in God. That’s not why he’s here.

In the past, journalists like Serafim had travelled great dis­tances to meet me. They talked of the bigger world and how it was hungry to hear of my work. They brought food and school sup­plies for the children, and so I welcomed them. They promised my story would help end the threat faced by people like me. Their letters were thin and tilted forward as if they were being pushed from behind. I call them scribblers, because I once allowed myself to love a man who scribbled down his thoughts.

“I’ve startled you,” Serafim says, packing his things. “I guess today’s interview didn’t get off to a very good start.” I hear his satchel snap shut.

I adjust my eyeglasses. When I turn around, to lean against the balcony railing, Serafim is already standing near the door, his bag slung across one shoulder and pressed flat against his thigh. He moves to drop his cigarette in the hallway, but catches him­self, and instead bends down to douse it in a small puddle by the wall. His hands are always clean. His nails trimmed. He tucks the cigarette butt into his pocket. This man cares about the world.

“I can come back tomorrow. Or Sunday, if you like. When you have more time. If you’ll allow me, that is.”

I catch his scent—warm clove and curing tobacco. I close my eyes and my toes clench. I loosen my shawl. “Let me speak.”

“Please,” Serafim says, and there is such urgency in his voice that I want to weep.

“There is nothing worse in this world than to be silenced,” I say, and Serafim’s body relaxes against the door jamb. “Except, perhaps, being forgotten.”

Other journalists have come before him looking for facts. I have given them what they have asked, only to never hear from them again. I was left feeling used and empty. No more. I am grateful I have hunted down words over the years so that I can begin to construct a story—a story that is my own.

“People tell me I was born in 1956, or close to it. I do not disagree, but it means nothing to me. This is what I know. I grew up on the grasslands of Tanganyika, before the land became Tanzania. My people did not care about Europeans or the names they gave things. They drew lines wherever they wanted and claimed what wasn’t theirs. The Maasai are a proud people. We kept ourselves alive. The foreigners had all heard our story.”

“Story?”

“How the God, Enkai, sent the cattle to our people down a long rope between heaven and earth.”

The ocean breeze blows through my window, a distant smell of the salty monsoon sea and charcoal fires.

“We had been given everything. Until one of us tried to demand more from Enkai. He got angry and cut that rope. But you don’t need to know all this.”

“Please, continue. I want to hear it.”

Over and over I have rehearsed how I would tell this story. But this is the first time I have heard my words. I have to push past my uncertainty. “We were sent out of the garden, climbed up from a crater bounded on all sides by a steep cliff. The red dust clung to our skin. We survived the sun and dry lands for countless moons, herding our beasts along the great river they call Nile, walking by the rim of Enkai’s angry gash in the earth they also named, Great Rift Valley. You see, the white man has always wanted to tell our story—to name things. The Maasai had nothing they could take. They feared us as warriors—they could not possess us and sell us to foreign lands. And for these reasons they left us alone.”

I look over my balcony once again, out across the hotel grounds. Small fires are everywhere. A man has caught some pigeons and is plucking them. Some children are bathing in the stagnant water that has collected in the deep end of the pool. They do so under the bright red light that pulsates from the Coca-Cola machine. It was delivered to that spot, set up against what once was the cabana wall, shortly after the Africa Cup of Nations in 2013. They ran wires to connect that one machine. I have never seen anyone buy anything from it. It accepts nothing but South African rand. This building I live in was once called the Grande Hotel, but its rich guests haven’t walked these ruined halls for years. In 1974 the Portuguese soldiers who fought the last days of the War of Independence returned to Portugal and the hotel was left in ruins. As soon as we had taken back our land we entered a war amongst our­selves. Another twenty years of bloodshed, but those soldiers had no need for the hotel. It is now home to over two thousand people. There is no running water and no electricity. The city’s politicians leave us alone. They know if you poke a stick into an anthill, the ants scurry about, clean up the mess and strengthen things, as if erasing the action. With its many ghosts we share the hotel and drink leaking rainwater. Elevator shafts have become dark throats that swallow our waste, and at least once a year a child falls in and is lost to us. The war has scarred this place. Serafim can see that for himself.

“Here we are all broken—the lame, the poor, refugees, and albinos like me. We each have found a place. People with albi­nism have taken over Block B of the hotel. Here in Mozambique we are misunderstood. We are attacked, killed. Our body parts are sold to men who call themselves healers for use in charms and magical potions. But you have heard this.”

“Do you ever think of going back to the place you were born? Would you be safe there?” From the strength of his voice I know he has returned to the chair I set out for him.

“We are called zeru zerus there. It means we are nothing. Here, the people call me a branca. Albinos who do not belong to others have come here because they have heard of this place, and of me. I have no special magic, but I cannot convince them.”

Lulled by the sound of Serafim scratching his notes, I con­tinue. What comes through the gate of my mouth is carefully selected.

“If there is a god, the one my ancestors called Enkai, I have seen its face in three women. These were the strong ones who never feared my touch. Namunyak, my birth mother, gave me life and a name. She would not live long enough to see me laugh or play or take my first steps. Simu, my mother’s sister, took me in and nurtured a place of love in me so that I would not grow into a bitter root. Fatima, the last of the three women, she christened me Pó, the Portuguese word for pow­der. ‘A fitting name for a beautiful girl like you,’ she said.”

Serafim looks up from his notebook. His face glows.

“I have also seen the face of god in one man,” I say. “Ezequiel. He kept a harmonica in his pocket, an extra pair of boots over his shoulder, and a rifle across his back. He declared his love for me with a gift. And later he gave me another.” I catch my breath. “Because of Zeca, I can see things as Enkai had intended.” I remember thinking, This is the way the world is. This is the way the world was meant to be.

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At the Mountain's Edge

At the Mountain's Edge

edition:Paperback
also available: eBook
tagged : historical

From bestselling author Genevieve Graham comes a sweeping new historical novel of love, tragedy, and redemption set during the height of the Klondike Gold Rush.

In 1897, the discovery of gold in the desolate reaches of the Yukon has the world abuzz with excitement, and thousands of prospectors swarm to the north seeking riches the likes of which have never been seen before.

For Liza Peterson and her family, the gold rush is a chance for them to make a fortune by moving their general store bus …

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Butterfly

Butterfly

edition:Paperback
also available: eBook

Lucien and Natasa might have slipped toward love, if her past in Sarajevo hadn't caught up with her. Natasa finds work modeling for a painter in Toronto, but he is murdered. Natasa disappears that night, running for her life. Her vanishing is connected to the discovery of a video, secretly filmed in a small town in Bosnia and Herzegovina during the war. Butterfly is a novel that charts a controlled descent through the dark legacy of war and the underbelly of the global art scene ... into a world …

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The Storm

The Storm

A Novel
edition:Paperback
also available: eBook Paperback
tagged : sagas, historical

Inspired by the 1970 Bhola Cyclone, in which half a million people perished overnight, The Storm seamlessly interweaves five love stories that, together, chronicle fifty years of Bangladeshi history.

 

Shahryar, a recent Ph.D. graduate and father of nine-year-old Anna, must leave the US when his visa expires. As father and daughter spend their last remaining weeks together, Shahryar tells Anna the history of his country, beginning in a village on the Bay of Bengal, where a poor fisherman and his …

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