5 Best Books … About Real People In Fiction
August 12, 2011 20 Comments
Cassandra 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
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
The 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
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
A 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
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?