It takes an unusually dexterous author to write a successful novel based on true events. The writer must juggle history with invention, without allowing one to compromise the other; the novel shouldn't read like a textbook, but shouldn't too grossly distort its historical inspiration for entertainment. But the authors who succeed often create some of the most compelling, profoundly insightful books to ever line your bookshelves — and if said shelves are looking a little empty? That's where I come in. Try one of these five books inspired by real events, and reach the last page with a closer sense of what it is to be human.
Though historical fiction is a richly populated genre, the selections on this list all deal with the 20th and 21st centuries, from the United States to Ireland. National Book Award winner Jesmyn Ward takes inspiration from her own experience of Hurricane Katrina in Salvage the Bones, while Toni Cade Bambara depicts another American tragedy — the Atlanta child murders — in These Bones Are Not My Child. In The Little Red Chairs, Edna O'Brien transports a Bosnian Serb war criminal to rural Ireland, while Juan Gabriel Vásquez takes on the Colombian drug trade in The Sound of Things Falling. And in Alejandro Zambra's Ways of Going Home, the author tackles childhood and nostalgia against the backdrop of the Pinochet regime in Chile. Intrigued? Just read on.