When people ask why I adore historical fiction, my answer is usually, "Because I can't time travel."
This is true. But there's more.
Much of historical fiction is about exposing the truth. The ugly, horrid, impossible parts of who we are and where we came from. Researching history reveals the worst parts of humanity. Slavery, genocide, famine — simply unimaginable circumstances. But in the depths of human suffering comes the light and through the darkness, heroes emerge. When people are pushed to the limits of emotion, they are forced to decide who they are. Will they fall, or join the darkness, or will they rise to an everyday human capable of extraordinary things?
For me, this is the question at the heart of historical fiction. From the warm, safe confines of our home we get to try on our superhero capes and see how they fit. We ask the inevitable question, What would I do if that were me? Would I have risked my life to hide my Jewish friends in the attic? Would I flee or fight, or would I drown?
Of course, there are many wonderful historical fiction books that tell pleasant stories of quiet triumph and lessons learned. They can be lovely. But I want the tears. I want to feel everything in the span of 400 pages. I want to read of women fighting against the world that has shackled them and men trying to right the wrongs of the world they have built. I want a story to break me and put me back together again.
We didn't ask to be born in this time, just as those in the Great Depression didn't ask for their lot in life. We don't know what our time will hand us (the last two years proved that). And when our life inevitably serves up the challenges that almost break us, the ones that damn near do us in, who will we be in the end? Will we have learned? Strengthened? Fought? Triumphed? Will we be proud of the person who has come out the other side?
I sure hope so.
Pick up a historical fiction book. I don't think you'll regret it.