#5Books on almost-famous women

diverse historical fiction rec list

Historical fiction, it seems, is bringing women forgotten in history to light again. I can’t remember how I found this article, but it got me thinking about historical fiction and the almost-famous or forgotten women (that probably speaks more to my exposure to historical fiction in general) of history. I found, what for me anyway, was a diverse selection of books.

So here is a list of almost-famous, not so familiar women and stories.

Long Bay by Eleanor Limprecht: Long Bay is a notorious Australian prison, and I didn’t realise there also existed a female prison bearing the same name. This is the story of Rebecca, an abortionist, who was imprisoned when a woman she and her husband (who also ended up in prison) were performing an abortion on died. Rebecca gave birth to her second daughter in prison. The author traced Rebecca’s family tree, spoke to her grand-daughter in fact, before writing this one.

The Last Empress by Anchee Min: Tzu Hsi, Lady Yehonala or Empress Orchid was the last Empress of China at a time when it was becoming more Western. Depending on who you believe, she was a despot or she was ruthless and effective ruler. The author here writes a more human story of her.

Complicated marriages and complicated women: The Aviator’s Wife is the story of  Anne Morrow, who married Charles Lindbergh, and while his accomplishments are celebrated, she isn’t — she was the first licensed female glider in the US.

The Last Queen of India: Turns out India is home to a badass queen: Lakshmi, who fought to defend her kingdom, Jhansi, from the British. The book is from the POV of Sita, a warrior in the female army she raises (there was a male one too). Badass queen and warrior. CHECK.

The Last Nude: Is a love story between the famous painter Tamara de Lempicka and her model Rafaela Fano in the 1920s. Tamara was famous for her art deco style of painting and, this is her Beautiful Rafaela — first painted in 1927 and get this, when she passed in 1980, she was painting this again. Be still my heart. Ellis Avery, the author, did an illuminating Q&A about her. 

I am going to cheat today and add two more to this list:

Rabbit-Proof Fence: Is the true story of the escape of two Aboriginal sisters who escaped an assimilation camp for Aborginal children in 1932. The author, Doris Pilkington, traces her mother’s escape in this story to her return home. There was a movie made about this, and whether you watch or you read, it’ll stick with you long after you’re done.

Eye on the Struggle: Ethel Payne, the First Lady of the Black Press: This is a biography, but it’s a story that needs to be told and remembered. Ethel Payne was a star reporter for the Chicago Defender and a pre-eminent black female reporter of the Civil Rights era.


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