5 Best Books … About Real People In Fiction

5 Best BooksCassandra of Indie Reader Houston has started a new meme: “5 Best Books”. Every week, a different topic is suggested by Cassandra and participants list what they think are the 5 best book for that topic. Click HERE to see the topics for the next few weeks.

This week, the topic is 5 Books about real people in fiction.

I don’t actually like to see real people in fiction. In fact, I do avoid it, if I can. Why? Because I’ll remember things about these people that aren’t true. They will not really have said or done exactly what’s in the book, but I may remember it as something they did. And I don’t like that.

But of course, I do sometimes inadvertently come across real people in a novel. If it’s someone I hadn’t heard about in the first place, I don’t actually mind so much, because I can treat it as fiction.

So, here are a few books in which real people make their entrée.

The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver

The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver In this book, the main character, Harrison Shepherd, spends some time in Mexico where he works for Rivera and Kahlo, painters (that really existed). They take in Lev Trotsky, the communist, after he is on the run from Stalin (this also really happened). Shepherd works as a secretary for Trotsky for a while, still at the Rivera house.

I wasn’t too interested in these real-life people but the book itself was good. It’s about America in the 1950s and includes the “communist threat” where lots of people were arrested for supposedly being communist.

A big tome, this book, but I found it worthwhile.

The Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier

Girl with a Pearl EarringThe story takes place in Delft, in the Netherlands, so it was interesting for me as a native Dutch. The famous painter Johannes Vermeer is a secondary character who paints his maid, Griet and falls in love with her. He paints her – and this painting and the painter really existed.

This is 17th century Netherlands in which nothing is said out loud but everything is implied. Griet has to decide between marrying a butcher’s boy or stay at the household of Vermeer.

The book is written in a very sparse style, very beautifully. It’s slow paced and very atmospheric.

The Women by T. C. Boyle

The Women by T. C. BoyleIn The Women, T. C. Boyle describes the relationships of the famous architect from the first half of the 20th Century, Frank Lloyd Wright, with the four main women in his life.

A lot of the story focuses on the repeating situation where he leaves one woman for the next: How does this affect the woman left behind and how does the new woman fit in his well established life.

It’s a little bit dull (not really a book for “5 Best”), but it stayed with me for a long time. If you have a particular interest in the architect, you’ll like it a lot.

Jpod by Douglas Coupland

Jpod by Douglas CouplandA humorous book about the life of a computer programmer in Canada called Ethan. He works at JPod, a company that make computer games. We read about the working life of him and his co-workers and of his marihuana-growing mother, his often-drunk father, his Chinese criminal “friend” Kam and other interesting characters.

There is a body that needs hiding, a JPod boss that needs rescuing from a factory in China, a lesbian mother (“I’m not a lesbian!”, “No, of course not, mom”). In the end, everyone quits their job at JPod and starts working for Douglas Coupland, who Ethan meets on his trip to China.

So, in this book, the author himself makes an appearance, which I thought was very funny. Well, the whole book was funny. I loved it!

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell I’m afraid this is a little cheat. The “real people” in this book are not real. But they also appear in a different book by this author: Black Swan Green.

In Cloud Atlas, one of the main characters stays at the Belgian house of the composer Vyvyan Ayrs whereas in Black Swan Green, the main character meets the daughter of the Ayrs.

I thought this was great! I love it when characters appear in different books. And actually, somehow I did think Vyvyan Ayrs was a real person (I remember googling him after reading the book).

Cloud Atlas is a complex book, made up of several loosely linked stories from the past to the distant future. I loved it, but it’s not an easy read.

What fiction do you like that has real people in?


About Leeswammes
I'm owner and editor at bookhelpline.com. In my free time, I read and review books on my two blogs, Leeswammes' Blog and De Boekblogger.

20 Responses to 5 Best Books … About Real People In Fiction

  1. charliejc555 says:

    I am a South African, I would like to know if you ever came accross,heard of or read the novels(fiction) of Anne Rice, to me she’s an admirable writer, with an intuitive and excellent manner of usage of the English language, at the moment I’m reading two books of hers;namely: The Servant of the Bones and The Feast of All Saints, which focuses on the lives and the struggles of a few colored(gens de colore libre) Creole characters in or about New Orleans in the state of Louisiana in the early 19th century, also, have you ever read a book named Soul Mountain by a Chinese writer named Gao Xinghian, it’s a must read and wonderful book!! I would love a reply.

    • Leeswammes says:

      Charlie, thanks for the recommendations. I read one book by Anne Rice, a vampire story, which I sort-of liked but I never felt like reading more. The books you are reading at the moment sound more interesting!

  2. Tes says:

    I read Jpod a while ago and it was really fun 🙂

  3. Rikki says:

    I also loved Girl with a Pearl Earring, even though I didn’t like Vermeer as a character, which in turn I didn’t like because I so wanted to like him, if you know what I mean.
    Have you seen the film? I watched it after reading the book and was slightly disappointed.

  4. Suzanne says:

    I have The Lacuna on my pile …
    I loved The Girl with a Pearl Earring — in fact I enjoy reading novels about the genesis of art masterpieces. I didn’t think I could come up with anything for this category, but a few are now coming to mind….. thanks for the prompt!

  5. The Girl with the Pearl Earring and The Women are both excellent books! I love reading fiction that is based on real people.

  6. I’m so glad to have you back! I’ve missed your lists the last few weeks, but I know that you’ve been busy with lots of other things 🙂

    I cannot believe that I didn’t know about Lacuna! That fits right into the project I’m doing for another degree that I never quite finished.

    And I completely see your point about mis-remembering. It bothers me about certain types of people, but with others, not so much.

    • Leeswammes says:

      I was busy indeed, Cassandra, and when the topic of the week doesn’t inspire me enough, I decided to forgo for those weeks.

      The Lacuna is a good book, you should definitely try it.

  7. RFW says:

    Lots out there – makes me wonder if they were hiding under the bed, listening to the conversations: The Paris Wife, The Blind Contessa’s New Machine, Clara and Mr. Tiffany – historical fiction – some true, some made up – all fun

  8. In all of my novels there is a real person and usually some real events which surrounded them of which they were a part. The most notable is the murder of British Columbia Police Constable Jack Lawton and the ‘apprehetion’ of his killer, ‘One Eared’ Charlie Brown, both of which were real characters and the events surrounding their death very close to what actually happend; or as close as I could make those events and still fit the much longer story which is mostly immagination.

    • Leeswammes says:

      Thanks for your comment, Dave. I don’t mind real people if they are not too well known. It’s sometimes fun to find out about special people that really existed.

  9. A whole list of books that I haven’t read–although I keep thinking about The Girl with the Pearl Earring. They all sound good.

    I’m behind this week, so I just got my list up.

  10. cbjames says:

    I enjoyed Girl with Pearl Erring, but I typically stay away from fiction based on real people. It seems a bit underhanded to me, somehow, making up stories about people who really lived. I avoid them in favor of actual biography or history as much as possible. I’d rather read about what really happened, as far as we know. Truth is stranger than fiction, as they say.

  11. Mirjam says:

    I really enjoyed de 100-jarige man die uit het raam klom en verdween. The main character meets a lot of historical figures like American president, Stalin, Mao. It is a bit like in the movie Forres Gump.

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