12 Historical Fiction Books That Will Transport You Around The World

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Historical fiction readers come to the genre to immerse themselves in the past. They don’t want to read a textbook. Instead, they want to experience what it was like to live in a certain era and location. They want to smell it, touch it, see it, taste it.

I believe that writing historical fiction is not so different from writing science fiction; as historical novelists, we create worlds. The reader steps inside the story and feels transported to another place and time. Some of the most immersive historical novels transport readers not only into the past but around the world. I’ve collected some of my favorite of these historical reads — books that transport readers beyond the borders of a single location.

More than ever, right now we need stories to help us escape to a different time and location. Put these books at the top of your TBR list to travel the world from home.

Countries: Malaysia and Singapore

What it’s about: From the first page, The Night Tiger whisks the reader to the mysterious world of 1930s colonial Malaysia and Singapore, places fraught with danger for the two main characters — the apprentice dressmaker Ji Lin and houseboy Ren. As we read on to see how Ren and Ji Lin’s stories will collide, a mythic and dangerous tiger threatens to upend their worlds.

Flatiron Books

Countries: Renaissance Italy and WWII FranceWhat it's about: The

Countries: Renaissance Italy and WWII France

What it’s about: The “Mona Lisa” stands at the center of my dual-timeline tale, which is based on the true story of Leonardo da Vinci’s masterpiece both in the Renaissance and World War II. Readers will immerse themselves in the world of Medici Florence, and then Paris and the French countryside, as the Louvre staff try to hide the painting from Nazi looting. Two women, separated by 500 years, each hide the “Mona Lisa” — with unintended consequences.

William Morrow

Countries: Monserrat, South America, and the United KingdomWhat it's about: This sweeping historical epic transports the readers to the island Monserrat, where Doll buys her way out of slavery and works her way up to become one of the most powerful entrepreneurs of the colonial West Indies. Readers will be swept up in the tide of colonial politics and the harsh realities of slavery in the Caribbean during the 18th century, but come away with a sense of satisfaction to have walked in the shoes of a woman who made an indelible mark on history.

Countries: Monserrat, South America, and the United Kingdom

What it’s about: This sweeping historical epic transports the readers to the island Monserrat, where Doll buys her way out of slavery and works her way up to become one of the most powerful entrepreneurs of the colonial West Indies. Readers will be swept up in the tide of colonial politics and the harsh realities of slavery in the Caribbean during the 18th century, but come away with a sense of satisfaction to have walked in the shoes of a woman who made an indelible mark on history.

William Morrow

Countries: Germany, Switzerland, France, the USA, ItalyWhat it's about: This stunning new novel opens in Germany at the turn of the twentieth century and follows Thomas Mann, author of Death in Venice, as he navigates the complex landscape of marriage, family obligation, illicit desire, and politics during the rise of Adolf Hitler. Through Mann’s own tortuous decisions, the reader flees Nazi Germany for new challenges in Switzerland, France, and the USA.

Countries: Germany, Switzerland, France, the USA, Italy

What it’s about: This stunning new novel opens in Germany at the turn of the twentieth century and follows Thomas Mann, author of Death in Venice, as he navigates the complex landscape of marriage, family obligation, illicit desire, and politics during the rise of Adolf Hitler. Through Mann’s own tortuous decisions, the reader flees Nazi Germany for new challenges in Switzerland, France, and the USA.

Scribner

Countries: China and the USAWhat it's about: The bonds of sisterhood stand at the center of this terrific novel by Lisa See, which opens in 1930s Shanghai. Pearl and May are living the high life until they learn their father has gambled away their wealth at the same time that Japanese bombs fall on their city. Fleeing to America, the girls must navigate a new culture, the allure and seduction of California, and the vagaries of their own hearts.

Countries: China and the USA

What it’s about: The bonds of sisterhood stand at the center of this terrific novel by Lisa See, which opens in 1930s Shanghai. Pearl and May are living the high life until they learn their father has gambled away their wealth at the same time that Japanese bombs fall on their city. Fleeing to America, the girls must navigate a new culture, the allure and seduction of California, and the vagaries of their own hearts.

Random House

Countries: Italy, Poland, Germany, Austria, the USAWhat it's about: My dual-timeline story follows both the sitter in one of Leonardo da Vinci's most famous paintings,

Countries: Italy, Poland, Germany, Austria, the USA

What it’s about: My dual-timeline story follows both the sitter in one of Leonardo da Vinci’s most famous paintings, “Portrait of a Lady with an Ermine”, and the woman who fought to save the portrait from destruction during World War II. The Night Portrait takes readers from a castle in 1492 Milan to a private art collection in 1939 Poland on the eve of the Nazi invasion. Two women, separated by five centuries, are swept up in the tide of history as one painting stands at the center of their quests for their own destinies.

William Morrow

Countries: Japan and the USAWhat it's about: Abandoned by her mother, 8-year-old Nori is the product of a Japanese mother and African American father. Struggling to find her way in the strict society of upper-class Japanese culture of the late 1940s, Nori embarks on an adventure of love, prejudice, pain, loss, and family ties that will bring the reader along on an unforgettable journey.

Countries: Japan and the USA

What it’s about: Abandoned by her mother, 8-year-old Nori is the product of a Japanese mother and African American father. Struggling to find her way in the strict society of upper-class Japanese culture of the late 1940s, Nori embarks on an adventure of love, prejudice, pain, loss, and family ties that will bring the reader along on an unforgettable journey.

Dutton

Countries: Shanghai, the United Kingdom, AustraliaWhat it's about: This historical novel brings the reader along on a little-known story of Jewish refugees who fled Shanghai during World War II. This dual-timeline tale follows Li and Romy, close friends who must face the reality of being torn apart by war in 1939. In 2016, we follow Alexandra, who must peel the layers of her grandparents’ past to question everything she knows about her family — and herself.

Countries: Shanghai, the United Kingdom, Australia

What it’s about: This historical novel brings the reader along on a little-known story of Jewish refugees who fled Shanghai during World War II. This dual-timeline tale follows Li and Romy, close friends who must face the reality of being torn apart by war in 1939. In 2016, we follow Alexandra, who must peel the layers of her grandparents’ past to question everything she knows about her family — and herself.

William Morrow

Countries: Ethiopia, India, and the USAWhat it's about: One of my all-time favorites, this sweeping family saga pulls the reader into the complex territory of India and Ethiopia of the 1940s and '50s. The book opens with conjoined twins born to a nun, and only gets more engrossing from this epic beginning. This novel intertwines the author’s talents as a writer and his life’s devotion as a surgeon, and brings the reader along on a journey of love, loss, and unbreakable family ties across three continents.

Countries: Ethiopia, India, and the USA

What it’s about: One of my all-time favorites, this sweeping family saga pulls the reader into the complex territory of India and Ethiopia of the 1940s and ’50s. The book opens with conjoined twins born to a nun, and only gets more engrossing from this epic beginning. This novel intertwines the author’s talents as a writer and his life’s devotion as a surgeon, and brings the reader along on a journey of love, loss, and unbreakable family ties across three continents.

Alfred A. Knopf

Countries: Afghanistan and the USAWhat it's about: When an Afghan-American returns to Kabul to learn the truth about her family and the tragedy that destroyed them, she embarks on a quest to reconcile her current life in America with the one she loved and lost. Tragic yet hopeful at the same time, this story will keep readers engrossed in the puzzle of reconciling the present and past, and two very different worlds.

Countries: Afghanistan and the USA

What it’s about: When an Afghan-American returns to Kabul to learn the truth about her family and the tragedy that destroyed them, she embarks on a quest to reconcile her current life in America with the one she loved and lost. Tragic yet hopeful at the same time, this story will keep readers engrossed in the puzzle of reconciling the present and past, and two very different worlds.

William Morrow

Countries: Ghana and the USAWhat it's about: An epic family saga of eight generations, Homegoing follows the lineages of two half-sisters born in 18th-century Ghana. One marries an Englishman and leads a life of comfort, while the other is captured and sold into slavery. From the Gold Coast to Mississippi plantations and Jazz-Age Harlem, this extraordinary story makes the reader experience the legacy of captivity in a whole new way.

Countries: Ghana and the USA

What it’s about: An epic family saga of eight generations, Homegoing follows the lineages of two half-sisters born in 18th-century Ghana. One marries an Englishman and leads a life of comfort, while the other is captured and sold into slavery. From the Gold Coast to Mississippi plantations and Jazz-Age Harlem, this extraordinary story makes the reader experience the legacy of captivity in a whole new way.

Alfred A. Knopf

12.The Exiles by Christina Baker Kline

Countries: Australia, the United Kingdom, the open seaWhat it's about: This was one of my favorite reads of the year. The story opens in London and ends in Australia, but the bulk of the drama unfolds aboard a ship laden with female convicts on their way to a penal colony on the other side of the world. We worry about the characters from page one — and for good reason. Christina Baker Kline immerses us in the hardships and shifting loyalties of the incarcerated women, as well as the realities of a young Aboriginal girl, Mathinna, whose fate among these newcomers hangs in the balance.

Countries: Australia, the United Kingdom, the open sea

What it’s about: This was one of my favorite reads of the year. The story opens in London and ends in Australia, but the bulk of the drama unfolds aboard a ship laden with female convicts on their way to a penal colony on the other side of the world. We worry about the characters from page one — and for good reason. Christina Baker Kline immerses us in the hardships and shifting loyalties of the incarcerated women, as well as the realities of a young Aboriginal girl, Mathinna, whose fate among these newcomers hangs in the balance.

Custom House

the author, with curly hair, a scarf, and large hoop earrings, smiles softly at the camera

Laura Morelli holds a Ph.D. in art history from Yale University and is an award-winning, USA Today bestselling historical novelist. Laura has taught college students in the U.S. and in Italy. She has covered art and authentic travel for TED-Ed, National Geographic Traveler, Italy Magazine, CNN Radio, and other media. Laura is the author of the popular Authentic Arts guidebook series that includes MADE IN ITALY. Her historical novels, including The Night Portrait and The Gondola Maker, bring the stories of art history to life. Her latest novel, The Stolen Lady, comes out today.

Davide Mandolini, William Morrow


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