Archive for the ‘Historical Fiction’ Category

Jim Ferguson: One Thousand White Women- The Journals of May Dodd

Posted by nybookworm on November 23, 2009

One Thousand White Women was another book club selection and a very quick read.  This novel is set in 1875 and imagines what it would be like if an obscure  and true historical event – the request by a Cheyenne chief to be sent 1000 white women for intermarriage with his tribe to further cultural harmony- were actually fulfilled rather than ignored by an outraged US government.  The story is told through the fictional journals of May Dodd, a woman from Chicago who was one of the initial troop of women volunteers sent out to become Cheyenne wives.  The motley crew of volunteers described in Dodd’s journals includes women released from insane asylums and prisons in exchange for their service as well as women abandoned by their families and generally down on their luck.  The journals are mostly about Dodd and the other women’s personal struggles integrating into the nomadic Cheyenne lifestyle but also includes vague historical references to the establishment of reservations and the ongoing conflict between the Native American tribes and the white settlers.   I enjoyed this book because it was a quick read with an offbeat topic, though frankly a little more salacious than I think it needed to be.   This may not be an entirely fair comparison but I am a huge fan of James Fenimore Cooper and so can’t help but compare all novels on this topic and set around this time to his novels.  While One Thousand White Women was enjoyable it does not hold a candle to the Cooper books and if anything I think it made me long to reread the Leatherstocking Tales to remember how a great frontier story of Native American life is told. 

Amazon Link to One Thousand White Women here: http://www.amazon.com/One-Thousand-White-Women-Journals/dp/0312199430


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Indu Sundaresan: The Twentieth Wife

Posted by nybookworm on April 11, 2009

twentieth-wifeI was a history major in college, partly because I got to college and was amazed by how much of world history is entirely neglected in high school curriculum.  High school world history is a requirement but very little, if at all, is taught about Asian and African history and even less about the Indian sub-continent (none for me, but that may have changed since I graduated high school).  Which is partly why I loved The Twentieth Wife,  a fictional account of some of the major figures of the Muslim Mughal empire in India around the 16th and 17th centuries.  In particular, it is about the Mughal emperor’s imperial zanana (harem) and one woman, Mehrunissa (known as Empress Nur Jahan), who emerged to be Emperor Jahangir’s closest advisor and a huge influence in Mughal affairs.  Mughal emperors had several wives over a lifetime and each lived inside the palace in the zenana, an all woman (and eunuch) living quarter where they vied for the power and attention of the emperor.  Mehrunissa was the twentieth wife and, at the age of 34, already considered too old to be the wife of an emperor.  She shocked the empire and the emperor’s closest advisors by becoming Jahangir’s favorite wife and his most valued political advisor.  The novel is fascinating portrait of one of the most opulent times in Indian history and Sundaresan’s vivid description of the wealth and extravagence of palace life is very engaging.  Oddly enough, though Mehrunissa was the most powerful of the Mughal wives, it is her niece Arjuman who married Jahangir’s son who lives on in history as the inspiration for the Taj Mahal. 

Amazon link here: http://www.amazon.com/Twentieth-Wife-Novel-Indu-Sundaresan/dp/0743427149

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