Archive for the ‘historical fiction’ Tag

Readers’ Advisory: Deafening, by Frances Itani

Saturday, February 22nd, 2014

Readers’ Advisory: Deafening, by Frances Itani (2003)

Synopsis: It is the eve of World War I. Set in a small Ontario town, Deafening focuses on Grania O’Neil, a young girl who lost her hearing at the age of five, thanks to scarlet fever. With the help of her grandmother, Grania attends the nearby School for the Deaf, and learns how to open up to the world. Eventually, she falls in love with Jim, a hearing man, and together they try to live with each other.

Then the war hits, and Jim is sent overseas as a stretcher bearer. Here the book veers between Grania and Jim, drawing a poignant comparison between Grania’s struggle to hear and Jim’s struggle to survive in the harsh world of the Western Front.

Deafening received critical acclaim, and for good reason: it presents a very vivid story, not just for Grania, who presents a unique point of view, but for Jim as well. Itani describes the war in vivid detail, with an emphasis on the dehumanizing effects of it. Set among such an unusual backdrop, the love story is definitely compelling for those who enjoy historical fiction or Canadian fiction. There is a wide variety of Canadian authors and Canadian fiction out there, and highlighting a Canadian work like this is a way to introduce people to literature they might not know about.

If you liked this book, you might also like…

The Cartographer of No Man’s Land, P.S. Duffy: Set both in a Nova Scotian fishing village and the front lines of World War I, this book explores the effects of the war on both fronts: through Angus, who signed up to find his brother-in-law, and through his sin Simon back home. This dual exploration of the war at home and overseas bares much similarity to the format of Deafening. If you liked the war aspect of Deafening, you might like this too.

The Way the Crow Flies, Ann-Marie MacDonald:  The story of eight year old Madeleine, living in an Air Force base near the border, and eventually, her adult search for a killer. Set in the sixties during the Cold War, this book is also historical fiction, though with a different bent. Based on the Steven Truscott case, the violence within may not be for everyone. MacDonald describes everything very vividly and elegantly, so if you’re interested in Canadian historical fiction, this might be worth checking out.


Goodreads: The Cartographer of No Man’s Land
Goodreads: The Way the Crow Flies


Readers’ Advisory: Memoirs of a Geisha, by Arthur Golden

Sunday, February 16th, 2014

Memoirs of a Geisha, 1997

Synopsis: Chiyo Sakamoto is taken from her small fishing village at a young age, and sold to an okiya, a geisha boarding house. Her sister Satsu, however, is separated from her and sold elsewhere. Chiyo is trained from an early age to become a geisha herself, but the resident geisha, Hatsumomo, tries to thwart Chiyo, fearing she would overtake her as head geisha. Eventually, due to a series of mishaps, the head of the geisha house refuses to invest any further in Chiyo, forcing her to pay off her debt via working for the okiya.

This changes one day when Mameha, a rival geisha, pushes the head of the geisha house to reinvest in Chiyo, and takes her on as her apprentice. From there, Chiyo changes her name to Sayuri and begins working as a geisha, while the threat of World War II grows ever closer.

Rich and atmospheric, Golden goes into exhaustive detail about the life of a geisha and the culture of Japan, cleverly done by having an elderly Chiyo/Sayuri be dictating the events of her life to the reader as a memoir (it begins with a ‘translator’s note’ that establishes this premise.) So those who are unfamiliar with the culture of Japan, and geisha in general, should be able to follow along without much confusion. Golden also writes with very evocative language, painting a clear picture of Kyoto and the surrounding areas.

At times very introspective, this novel is more a look at Sayuri’s life than anything else, and would be well appreciated by readers who have a love of historical fiction, the history of Japan, or even stories about forbidden love.


If you liked this book, you might also like…

The Teahouse Fire, Ellis Avery: The story of a young American orphan adopted by a Japanese family during the Meiji Restoration, taken in by a family known for teaching the art of the tea ceremony. A detailed look at the culture of Japan, and particularly the massive changes underwent by Japanese society at the time. Like Memoirs of a Geisha, it delivers a vivid, atmospheric picture of Japan.

The Commoner, John Burnham Schwartz: A story of a young woman who marries into the restricted Japanese Imperial Family, and finds herself at the whims of the Empress. She must change herself to try and survive such a bureaucratic household, and the novel details her life. Much as Memoirs of a Geisha explored the lives of geisha through one, The Commoner also examines a mysterious and little-known topic, the Chrysanthemum Throne, and provides a fictionalized glimpse into this life.

The Valley of Amazement, Amy Tan: Dealing with courtesans in turn of the century Shanghai and San Francisco, this novel outlines the connections between three generations of women. Though this does not deal with Japan, Tan offers a very atmospheric novel documenting how ancient practices are being threatened by a modernizing society, in a similar manner of Memoirs of a Geisha.

Geisha, A Life, Mineko Iwasaki with Rande Brown: Though this is not fiction, the author having worked as an actual geisha, this biography does certainly provide another detailed look at the world of geisha. Golden used Iwasaki as a reference when writing Memoirs of a Geisha, but apparently misrepresented certain aspects of the culture, so Iwasaki wrote Geisha, A Life in response. Very detailed, vivid, and certainly authentic; thanks to its close ties with Golden’s book, fans of one may well appreciate the other.


Goodreads: The Teahouse Fire

Goodreads: The Commoner

Goodreads: The Valley of Amazement

Goodreads: Geisha, A Life


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