Tag Archives: Historical novel reviews

The Name of the Rose

Written by Umberto Eco

Translated by William Weaver

Published by Vintage Classics

Review by Cecile Ng


“Thus looking at the Middle Ages means looking at our infancy, in the same way that a doctor, to understand our present state of health, asks us about our childhood”.

Umberto Eco has created what is perhaps the most unconquerable and daunting historical and meta-detective fiction of our time. As our protagonist, the intellectually prided Franciscan friar William of Baskerville – a nod to the great detective canon Sherlock Holmes,  and his apprentice – the dedicated Adso of Melk, maneuver among real and pseudo-historical figures to unveil the hidden plot that propels a series of murder. One such discourse involved in the plot is the adaptationist view of knowledge. Filled with numerous phrases in untranslated Latin, old German, pidgin, and other languages lost to modern readers, as well as cultural references deeply rooted in the medieval religious and philosophical context, The Name of The Rose is almost unreadable for any contemporary eyes without the help of companion books or a well-informed schema of medieval theological history.

It is only until one comes to understand the connotation and horde of research and conflict attached to the tedious strings of book names, architecture, dreams, and archives, that doors of comprehension will open themselves to a deeper revelation. Words are but signs that could be everything and nothing. 

If the attempt to preserve knowledge and history is merely a vain self-consolation on our part, as futile as Adso’s journey back to the Abbey at the end to salvage the fragments of the aedificium, why do we do it at all? The genius of The Name of the Rose lies in giving neither answers nor solutions, but an observation – in this world scorch in flame constantly awaiting the descend of the anti-Christ, our lives are but an adaptation of what has come before. We are our ancestors, a helpless Adso with nothing but the education passed down from his master at his disposal, forever chasing after a name of which that is already lost. Yet, unlike our protagonists, we are given this wisdom and insight by Umberto before it is too late. What is to be done with this knowledge, thus, rest entirely in the hands of the readers alone. 

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Cecile Ng is a final year student pursuing her B.A. in English Studies in Hong Kong. 

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Das Boot

Written by Lothar-Günther Buchheim

Published by Phoenix (originally published 1973)

Review by Valeriya Salt

I wanted to read this book, researching for my writing project. It helped me to understand better not only how U-boats operated and why during the war they became the Allies’ worst nightmare, but also gave me great insights into the life of a crew onboard German U-boat.

Written by a survivor of the U-boat fleet, the book is a fictionalised memoir of Lieutenant Werner (Lothar-Günther Buchheim) who was assigned as a war correspondent to U-96 during her last patrol in the North Atlantic. The U-boat fleet experienced the heaviest human losses: of 40,000 men who served on submarines, 30,000 failed to return. 

This book is more than just a historical drama. The author takes his reader through all circles of hell–from an endless storm in the Atlantic and pointless “frigging around” which almost destroyed the crew’s spirit to the two attacks and the crazily dangerous voyage through Gibraltar which almost smashed the U-boat.

Some readers can find the book a bit too long and monotonous, with the author’s endless descriptions of the Atlantic and the Mediterranean weather (the stormy sea, the calm sea, the sea at dawn, etc.) and wordy explanations on how the different compartments of the vessel operate, etc. However, it creates a certain atmosphere. A reader can actually feel the dripping of condensation from the ceiling of the boat, the smell of machine oil in the engine room, and hear explosions of depth charges during attacks.

The author doesn’t give names to most of the crew. We know the men only by their ranks or nicknames: The Old Man/Herr Kaleun (Herr Kapitänleutnant), the Chief, the First Watch Officer, Number One, etc. It doesn’t prevent a reader from connecting to all of them. 

Although during the war we were on opposite sides of the barricade, the book made me feel compassionate towards these young men (the Old Man was actually in his mid 30s, the rest of the crew–in their late teens, early 20s) who went through all the horrors of the war, but didn’t lose their honour, bravery, kindness, and ability to help others. Clearly, these men were not evil, brainwashed Nazis. They were just men who were pushed to fight. All they wanted is just to survive and finish the war.

Despite the lack of female characters in the book, can a girl like me relate to the main characters? “Jawohl, Herr Kaleun!” Absolutely.

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Valeriya Salt is a multi-genre author from the United Kingdom. Born in Belarus, she lived for many years in the Ukraine and Russia before settling down in the north of England. Apart from creative writing, she has a passion for travelling, arts, history, and foreign languages. She’s the author of a few published thriller/science fiction novellas and novels. Her short stories have appeared in numerous anthologies as well as magazines, both online and in print. Apart from creative writing, she has a passion for travelling, arts, history, and foreign languages.

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Seeking Historical Novel Reviews

Do you write reviews of historical novels? The Copperfield Review is actively seeking submissions of historical novel reviews, including subgenres such as historical mysteries, romance, even historical fantasy. We also accept submissions of reviews of nonfiction history books and biographies of historical figures, as well as nonfiction books about writing and creativity.

We publish reprints, so if your review has appeared on your own blog or elsewhere and you have the rights, we will consider it for publication. Be sure to check our guidelines for how to submit your work.

We’re looking forward to reading your submissions. Please repost if you know of other fans of historical fiction who write book reviews!

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Mr. Dickens and His Carol

Written by Samantha Silva

Published by Flatiron Books

288 pages

Review by Meredith Allard

 

The caveat for this novel comes after the story where author Samantha Silva notes what most of us figured out while we were reading–that this is not a biographical sketch of how A Christmas Carol came to be but an imaginative “What if” about how Dickens might have come to write the world’s second most famous Christmas story. The Dickensians among us might easily fall into the trap of thinking “This didn’t happen,” “That didn’t happen,” and “There’s no way on earth that ever happened.” To fully enjoy this book we need to leave what we know about Dickens aside and simply enjoy the novel for what it is, a sweet retelling of the classic story using Dickens himself as the Scrooge who needs to discover the true meaning of Christmas. I highly recommend this novel for those who love Dickens, love his Carol, and are looking for a unique retelling of the tale.

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Meredith Allard is the Executive Editor of The Copperfield Review.

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Maid of Baikal: A Speculative Historical Novel of the Russian Civil War

Written by Preston Fleming

Review from The Copperfield Review

 

 

Maid of Baikal by Preston Fleming is a speculative historical novel, as it states in the book’s title. Fans of traditional historical fiction should be warned that this is a “What if?” novel based on the question “What if the White Russian army won the Russian civil war?”

The story of Maid of Baikal centers around Zhanna Dorokhina, a romanticized version of Joan of Arc who strives to beat back the Bolsheviks through military force. Like Joan of Arc, Zhanna believes she is on a divine mission as she leads her army, in this case the White Russian army against the Bolsheviks. The battle scenes were well written and compelling, and I found myself rooting for Zhanna to win. I felt as though I was there in Russia since the descriptions were so vivid and specific.

As an avid reader of historical fiction I wasn’t expecting to enjoy this book as much as I did. Normally I don’t care for alternative historical fiction because it defies the reason I like to read historical fiction, which is that I get to learn about the past. Even though some of the details presented in Maid of Baikal are the result of imagination, there is still a lot of history to learn here about the Bolsheviks, the Russian civil war, and Russia itself.

Creating a Tolstoy-like epic, Fleming shares a realistic, vivid world within the Russian civil war with rich, multi-dimensional characters that reveal various aspects of humanity as seen in war time, all made more fascinating by the question “What if?” If you love historical fiction and you’re open to speculative circumstances different to that of historical facts, then you will enjoy Maid of Baikal by Preston Fleming. Readers with an interest in Russia and Russian history will also enjoy this novel.

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The Song of Achilles

Written by Madeline Miller

Published by HarperCollins Publishers

Review by Meredith Allard

 

This is simply an outstanding piece of literature. Miller’s simple yet lyrical style pulls you effortlessly into the poetry of the Iliad. Here we focus on Achilles through the eyes of Patroclus, the young prince who is banished from his land for accidentally killing another boy and he is taken as a companion for Achilles. Patroclus and Achilles become partners in every way, and the Song of Achilles is really a love song between the two men. This isn’t simply an attraction between Patroclus and Achilles. This is a deep, abiding love that transcends death.

If you’re familiar with the Iliad (which you do not need to be to enjoy this book), then there are few surprises here except perhaps for the scope of the relationship between Achilles and Patroclus. There is no twist-filled ending here: the fate of the two men has been sung about throughout the ages. Still, Miller ends this tale in a way that is perfectly heartbreaking, but in a good way. Despite war, broken promises, and the loss of all one holds most dear, there can be peace in the end.

This is not a retelling of the entire story of the Iliad. This is one version of one story as told through the eyes of the man who knew Achilles best. I’m looking forward to reading more from Madeline Miller.

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Meredith Allard is the Executive Editor of The Copperfield Review. Visit her online at www.meredithallard.com.

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