Survival in Historical Fiction

What do these three novels of historical fiction have in common? They’re not set in WWII? Right. The authors are among my favorites? Yes. And the characters will fight for survival in the face of a natural disaster? Correct. Indeed, I’m guessing that Mother Nature herself becomes a character in these books.

Melanie Benjamin’s recent release, The Children’s Blizzard, is based on a real-life tragic storm on the plains of the Dakota Territory in January 1888. I’m only a few chapters in, but Benjamin sets the scene early. A school teacher who’s scarcely older than her students but who also harbors a secret must decide: Send the children home as the horrible snow storm takes over—and hope they can make it safely? Or, keep the children in the schoolhouse with dwindling firewood and few provisions and pray they can all survive? In either case, with the storm having followed an unseasonably warm spell, no one even has their winter coats or boots at the ready.

On February 2, Susan Meissner’s The Nature of Fragile Things will come out. It’s a story of the intertwined fates of three women on the eve of the devastating San Francisco earthquake in 1906—and the devouring inferno it sparks. I know Meissner’s story will bring authentic historical detail and will cut deep to the emotional cores of these women. After all, she already blew me away by tackling the Spanish Flu pandemic in As Bright as Heaven well before COVID-19 hit. This author tells heart-wrenching stories that combine love and hope and resilience.

Kristin Hannah’s highly anticipated next novel, The Four Winds, will release on the same date. It’s being hailed as “a powerful American epic” set during the Great Depression and amidst the infamous Dust Bowl in Texas.

These novels promise to capture the strength of the human spirit in the face of adversity. We will see through the characters’ eyes the enormity of their fear with things they can’t control, the consequences of their actions, and the losses that they and others suffer.

But as readers, we will live in the characters’ hearts for a time and experience moments of triumph, too. Of that, I am certain.

And after all our country has been through in the last year alone—from racial injustice to a virus that kills and everything else in between—isn’t historical fiction that’s inspired by fact exactly what we need?

To remind us that despite our vulnerabilities and frailties, we can be courageous and we can persevere?

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