Book filter, with a slice of history
October 24, 2016 12:54 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking for books that provide insight to a (perhaps) underrepresented group, time, or event. Happy to have fiction or non-fiction (but if non-fiction, prefer a more journalistic or narrative bent).

I don't think I'm quite looking for historical fiction, but some suitable books might fit that description. A few examples I've liked recently: Half of a Yellow Sun (Chimamanda Adichie Ngozi); Waiting (Ha Jin); Wait Until Spring, Bandini (John Fante); or The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears (Dinaw Mengetsu). On the non-fiction side, I'm thinking of books like "We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with Our Families" (Philip Gourevitch) or Nothing to Envy (Barbara Demick).

Please share some recommendations with me to help pass these dark winter nights!
posted by stillmoving to Grab Bag (14 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China. From the Wikipedia description: Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China is a family history that spans a century, recounting the lives of three female generations in China, by Chinese writer Jung Chang. First published in 1991, Wild Swans contains the biographies of her grandmother and her mother, then finally her own autobiography.
posted by FencingGal at 1:12 PM on October 24, 2016 [2 favorites]

The Bridge on the Drina by Ivo Andric.
posted by kevinbelt at 1:22 PM on October 24, 2016

Just finished Liberty's Exiles: American Loyalists in the Revolutionary World by Maya Jasanoff. Really fascinating account of what happened to the many (60,000+) people in the 13 colonies who for a wide variety of reasons did not want to break away from old King George. It underscores how much the American Revolutionary war was also a civil war, and it focuses equal attention on the stories of women, Native Americans, enslaved people, and free African-Americans. Plus the writing is really engaging and not dry-academic like some history books. If you've been whipped up into an 18th-century lather by Hamilton, this book offers a really interesting counterpoint to the whole Patriot narrative.
posted by SinAesthetic at 1:41 PM on October 24, 2016 [1 favorite]

The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman is literary non-fiction that explores cultural differences between an immigrant Hmong family with an epileptic child and the medical infrastructure of their California county hospital. Fadiman's writing is really affecting.

Also, Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo is intensely researched non-fiction about life in a Mumbai slum that reads like non-fiction.
posted by vunder at 1:49 PM on October 24, 2016 [3 favorites]

Native Speaker, by Chang Rae Lee gave me insight into the Korean American community that I honestly don't know where I would have found elsewhere.

Because you appreciated We Regret To Inform You..., think about Love Thy Neighbor, by Peter Maass (not to be confused with Peter Maas), which documents the Balkans conflict and is one of the first books that made me cry.

Have you read The Warmth of Other Suns, by Isabel Wilkerson? It's as great as everyone says it is. So is The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot.

The Devil's Highway, by Luis Alberto Urrea, actually gave me nightmares about being lost in the desert. I love Urrea's nonfiction, which never fails to open my eyes to things I had never known or even properly considered.
posted by janey47 at 2:15 PM on October 24, 2016

Darktown--painstakingly-researched mystery about the first black police officers in Jim Crow-era Atlanta.
posted by Violet Hour at 2:25 PM on October 24, 2016

Salvage the Bones: a novel about a black teenage and her family in a small town in Mississippi during Hurricane Katrina.

Midnight in Peking: non-fiction about the murder of an English girl in China in 1937 at a historical time of upheaval when the British were about to leave and the Japanese were about to invade.
posted by carolr at 2:36 PM on October 24, 2016 [1 favorite]

Back-to-back, you should read Barbara Kingsolver's The Poisonwood Bible and then Adam Hochschild's King Leopold's Ghost.
posted by rtha at 3:42 PM on October 24, 2016

I love novels of this type as a way to get at areas of the world I wouldn't otherwise know much about. Here are some I've read recently that I've enjoyed:

Mo Yan's The Garlic Ballads is a fictional retelling of a village in rural China that rebelled against the Chinese government in the late 80s, after they were forced to grow one crop to sell to the government - that the government then decided they had enough of and the produce was left to rot.

Madeleine Thien's Do Not Say We Have Nothing is a multi-generational story of Communist China from the Cultural Revolution to Tiananmen Square protests and beyond. It's shortlisted for a Booker Prize (and hopefully will be announced as the winner tomorrow - it's amazing).

Azar Nafisi - Reading Lolita in Tehran is more of a memoir, but using the gathering of a women's bookclub tells the story of the Iranian Revolution.

Giles Milton - Nathaniel's Nutmeg is non-fiction about (surprise) the nutmeg trade in 16th- and 17th-century Europe. It's extremely esoteric but also really neat.
posted by urbanlenny at 3:53 PM on October 24, 2016

A slightly random selection of stuff:

Rivers of Babylon by Peter Pišťanek is a terrific satirical novel set in newly capitalist Slovakia after the fall of the Soviet Union.

The Day Lasts More than a Hundred Years by Chingiz Aitmatov is a oddly SF-inflected soviet-era novel about Kazakh camel-herders.

An African in Greenland by Tété-Michel Kpomassie is a Togolese man’s account of visiting Greenland.

Shadows of Your Black Memory by Donato Ndongo is a coming-of-age novel set in Equatorial Guinea in the 60s towards the end of Spanish rule there.
posted by Bloxworth Snout at 3:54 PM on October 24, 2016 [1 favorite]

Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese

Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President by Candace Millard
posted by MrsMGH at 5:33 PM on October 24, 2016

Bury Me Standing by Isabel Fonseca about the Roma.
posted by jessamyn at 7:22 PM on October 24, 2016

Response by poster: Great recommendations, thanks!
posted by stillmoving at 5:35 AM on October 29, 2016

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