Truthful Historical Fiction

Written by Francisca Goldsmith on Wednesday, July 27, 2016


No matter the genre, good fiction has the capacity to present truths more directly and accessibly than any other word-based communication. We tell and listen to stories for entertainment—yet, just as significant to us is that these entertainments reveal reality compactly and with memorable coherence. Week 13 gives us a pair of historical fiction novels that breathe life back into times past.


Jackie French’s PENNIES FOR HITLER, performed by Humphrey Bower for Bolinda Audio, provides us a way to understand what happened, and how it felt, to be shipped thousands of miles from home to be kept in relative safety during World War II. Georg is an English boy who has been raised in Germany...until World War II's eruption has his parents packing him off to safety. When his first stopping off place, London, clearly isn’t safe, he’s sent even further—to Australia. French is a highly popular Australian novelist and listeners here quickly will understand why as they get to know—and understand—Georg’s internal struggles even as the adults around him act with his best interests clearly in mind.

JUBA!, Walter Dean Myers’ last novel, published posthumously and performed here by Brandon Gill for HarperAudio, brings back to life a figure from  the 19th century. In the Antebellum free North, William Henry Lane discovered dancing and then Charles Dickens, on a visit to America, discovered him. Traveling to England, Juba, as Lane had renamed himself, became a celebrity. Slavery had been abolished in England, while the United States was unraveling under the pressures of dueling economies that relied upon slaves (the South) and eschewed that institution (the North). Should Juba return home to the chaos that, for him, a black man, was also a personal threat? Myers shows us why this isn't a simple choice.

Both of Week 13’s SYNC titles tell great stories. And both shine lights on how events in history have affected the individuals who lived through them, while also giving contemporary listeners vivid opportunities to ask themselves: “What if I were in this situation?”


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