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45 Historical Fiction Books That Will Take You Around the World

These reads are transporting.

The best historical fiction transports you around the globe and throughout time. So we compiled a list of our favorite historical fiction books for your reading pleasure. 

From riveting narratives based on historic events to captivating tales of personal experience, from the trade routes of 18th century Japan to the wilds of early Canada and the United States, these great books offer an array of literary journeys. Back your bags and start one today! 

Historical Fiction Set in Africa

Buy Half of a Yellow Sun at Amazon

Half of a Yellow Sun

By Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Adichie may be most well known for Americanah, but this 2008 novel tells the compelling story of a family living through the Nigerian Civil War and the short-lived nation of Biafra. A subject few Americans are familiar with, Adichie elucidates the Nigerian Civil War without ever resorting to simple explanations.

Related: The Best Travel Memoirs and History Books to Read Before (or During) Your Next Trip 

Half of a Yellow Sun

By Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Buy The Lion Seeker at Amazon

The Lion Seeker

By Kenneth Bonert

This fascinating story tells the tale of a young Lithuanian immigrant to South Africa during the Great Depression. Bonert draws on his own experience as a young Jewish boy in South Africa to tell a vivid story that is rarely shared.

The Lion Seeker

By Kenneth Bonert

Buy Segu at Amazon

Segu

By Maryse Condé

In 1797, Segu (modern Mali) is untouched by influences from either the East or West—and it’s a vibrant, wealthy, and safe nation. As the slave trade, new religions, and other influences enter Segu, the four sons of the king’s advisor are pulled in different directions. The first of two novels, Segu will tug at your heart.

Segu

By Maryse Condé

Buy Homegoing at Amazon

Homegoing

By Yaa Gyasi

Homegoing isn’t just a fantastic piece of historical fiction—it was one of the best books of 2016. Two sisters, born in Ghana, are separated from each other essentially upon birth. Their stories diverge wildly, and each section focuses on the next generation of each sister’s family. One sister’s descendants remain in Ghana, while the other is sold into slavery—her family is wholly American. This beautiful novel will floor you.

Homegoing

By Yaa Gyasi

Buy The Cairo Trilogy at Amazon

The Cairo Trilogy

By Naguib Mahfouz

Nobel Prize winner Mahfouz follows three generations of the Al Jawad family, from the late 1910s to the 1940s. The seemingly cohesive family changes greatly over the course of the Egyptian evolution of 1919 and two world wars. This trilogy, starting with Palace Walk, will thrill any lover of vast intergenerational histories.

The Cairo Trilogy

By Naguib Mahfouz

Buy Ways of Dying at Amazon

Ways of Dying

By Zakes Mda

Set in South Africa during the 1970s and 80s, Ways of Dying follows Toloki, a professional mourner. Told by a chorus of narrators, this novel situates the personal amidst the tumult of apartheid South Africa.

Ways of Dying

By Zakes Mda

Historical Fiction Set on the Asian Continent

Buy The Good Earth at Amazon

The Good Earth

By

This classic won the Pulitzer Prize for the Novel in 1932. Following Wang Lung, a peasant in the Chinese countryside, as he becomes wealthy, The Good Earth was one of the first popular American insights into Chinese culture.

Related: 10 Accurate Historical Fiction Books for Nonfiction Readers 

Buy And the Mountains Echoed at Amazon

And the Mountains Echoed

By Khaled Hosseini

Hosseini’s most popular novel was his first, The Kite Runner. But And the Mountains Echoed is a much more mature take on Hosseini’s native Afghanistan. And the Mountains Echoed centers on two siblings, Abdullah and his much younger sister Pari. Pari is sold to a couple outside of the family, giving the two vastly different experiences of their home.

And the Mountains Echoed

By Khaled Hosseini

Buy Pachinko at Amazon

Pachinko

By Min Jin Lee

A finalist for the National Book Award in 2017, Pachinko is a sprawling family drama perfect for any historical fiction fan. When young Sunja is impregnanted by an already-married man, a young missionary offers to marry her and take her from her native Korea to Japan. An underrecognized community, Korean citizens of Japan faced immense struggles. Pachinko follows four generations of Sunja's family to envelop you in history than few Americans encounter.

Pachinko

By Min Jin Lee

Buy Pearl of China at Amazon

Pearl of China

By Anchee Min

Anchee Min has written a number of historical fiction novels, but Pearl of China has a particularly unique perspective. Written partially about Pearl S. Buck, Min imagines her childhood and young womanhood. Willow, a young neighbor, is first infuriated, then enchanted by Pearl. As the two grow, Willow becomes a part of Mao’s circle, while Pearl must flee.

Pearl of China

By Anchee Min

Buy The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet at Amazon

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet

By David Mitchell

A Dutch trader moves to Nagasaki to take advantage of the new trading concessions opened to only the Dutch. Planning only to stay long enough to earn a large enough fortune to be able to marry his fiancée, Jacob de Zoet soon finds himself intrigued by another woman—a local midwife and the daughter of a samurai. Based loosely on the real life of Hendrik Doeff, The Thousand Autumns offers stunning insight into a 20-year period of the Japanese empire.

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet

By David Mitchell

Buy The Fool at Amazon

The Fool

By Raffi

Raffi is one of the most popular writers in Armenian history, and The Fool is his most popular historical novel. Set amidst the Russo-Turkish war, the novel follows a couple as they fall in love despite their circumstances.

The Fool

By Raffi

Buy Café Nevo at Amazon

Café Nevo

By Barbara Rogan

Emmanuel Sternholz runs Café Nevo, a gathering spot in Tel Aviv. Artists, radicals, conservatives, and people of all ethnicities come together at this small shop. Written in 1987, Café Nevo offers a glimpse of Israeli life during a tumultuous period.

Café Nevo

By Barbara Rogan

Buy Ali and Nino at Amazon

Ali and Nino

By Kurban Said

Sometimes called the Azerbaijan Love Story, Ali and Nino follows a young man and woman who fall in love despite their immense differences. Nino, a Muslim Azerbaijani, and Ali, a Christian Georgian princess, must find the compromises that make their love possible. Meanwhile, the novel gives the reader a clear view of Azerbaijan in the early 1900s.

Ali and Nino

By Kurban Said

Buy Buddha's Orphans at Amazon

Buddha's Orphans

By

When Raja's mother commits suicide in 1962, the young boy is left on his own. Buddha’s Orphans follows the boy as he becomes a man over the next 50 years, while Nepal’s society seems to slowly break down around him. The small details beautifully observed in this novel make it a true gem.

Buy The Nine Fold Heaven at Amazon

The Nine Fold Heaven

By Mingmei Yip

Enter pre-revolutionary China, where Camilla, a young spy, is attempting to free herself from the gang life. She's also searching for her missing child and her lover. Shanghai feels utterly real as Camilla works her way through the underbelly in her struggles to go good.

The Nine Fold Heaven

By Mingmei Yip

Historical Fiction Set in Australia

Buy The Sundowners at Amazon

The Sundowners

By Jon Cleary

This story is based on the novelist’s own parents—specifically his father, who ran away from his family as a teen to live in Queensland. Paddy is a second-generation Irish Australian, born in Queensland. He, wife Ida, and son Sean are itinerant workers, doing their best in a harsh land. The three will overcome obstacles, including their own emotional hurdles.

The Sundowners

By Jon Cleary

Buy Brother Fish at Amazon

Brother Fish

By Bryce Courtenay

Taking place in both Australia and Korea, Brother Fish follows the decades-long friendship of native Australian Jacko McKenzie and an orphaned African-American soldier, Jimmy Oldcorn. Brother Fish focuses on the effects of the Korean War and the White Australia policy.

Brother Fish

By Bryce Courtenay

Buy Outback at Amazon

Outback

By Aaron Fletcher

The first entry in Fletcher’s epic saga follows Patrick Garrity as he finds a wife, has children, and ekes out a living from the harsh Australian outback. Outback will teach you much about the early days of Australian colonialism while keeping you intrigued by the fascinating family at its center.

Outback

By Aaron Fletcher

Buy Jewel Sea at Amazon

Jewel Sea

By Kim Kelly

Set in 1912, Jewel Sea follows three characters along their ride on the (real) luxury ship SS Koombana. Their lives intersect in strange and unforeseen ways as they journey around the coast of Australia.

Jewel Sea

By Kim Kelly

Historical Fiction Set in Europe

Buy Shadows of the Pomegranate Tree at Amazon

Shadows of the Pomegranate Tree

By Tariq Ali

Before the conquest of Granada by Isabella I of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon, the southern section of the Iberian Peninsula (modern Spain) was a predominantly Muslim emirate. Ali’s novel follows a family after the fall of Granada as they attempt to find a way to live amongst Christians who will not tolerate their Islamic neighbors.

Shadows of the Pomegranate Tree

By Tariq Ali

Buy Rebel Princess at Amazon

Rebel Princess

By

The first entry in Anthony’s Romanov trilogy, Rebel Princess focuses on a fascinating but rarely explored historical figure: Catherine the Great. Catherine was never meant to be a ruling empress, but her reign ushered in a golden age for the Russian Empire. This 1989 novel is a light but informative introduction to Catherine’s life and reign.

Related: 15 Biographies of Remarkable Women That You Need to Read 

Buy The Queen of the Night at Amazon

The Queen of the Night

By Alexander Chee

Opera singer Lilliet Berne is a “falcon”: a soprano who can soar to notes that cannot be achieved by others, but whose voice is typically short-lived. As Lilliet struggles to find her place in 19th-century France, she encounters historical figures, survives revolutions, and more. This stunning epic will immerse you in European culture in the 1800s.

The Queen of the Night

By Alexander Chee

Buy My Brilliant Friend at Amazon

My Brilliant Friend

By Elena Ferrante

The first entry in a quartet, My Brilliant Friend is a stunning of portrait of a confusing, seductive friendship in the poor neighborhoods of 1950s Naples. Elena and Lila constantly find themselves obsessed with each other and the politics of their world, while also finding nearly any reason to despise the other for their understanding, or lack thereof, of their world. The Neapolitan Novels cover nearly 50 years of Italian history and culture.

My Brilliant Friend

By Elena Ferrante

Buy The Angel Makers at Amazon

The Angel Makers

By Jessica Gregson

This strange story is based on an all-too-real occurrence in Hungary in the 1920s. When the men of a Hungarian village go to fight in World War I, the women suddenly realize that their lives are much better without their husbands around. Protagonist Sari uses her midwifery knowledge to kill her abusive husband quietly after his return—soon, word gets around to the other women, who come to Sari for her services. At first, only “bad” men are killed. But can Sari and the women stop their killings before it gets out of hand?

The Angel Makers

By Jessica Gregson

Buy The Fall of the King at Amazon

The Fall of the King

By Johannes V. Jensen

Danish author Jensen’s masterpiece tells the story of (fictional) Mikkel Thøgersen and King Christian II of Denmark, between the years of 1497 and 1536. This sweeping epic has been named as the best Danish novel multiple times and is considered part of the Danish canon.

The Fall of the King

By Johannes V. Jensen

Buy The Succesor at Amazon

The Succesor

By Ismail Kadare

Mehmet Shehu, Prime Minister of Albania and second-in-command to dictator Enver Hoxha, is discovered dead inside a locked room of a shotgun wound. Despite the state’s claims that Shehu committed suicide, many remain skeptical. This historical mystery will keep readers invested all the way through.

The Succesor

By Ismail Kadare

Buy Buddenbrooks at Amazon

Buddenbrooks

By Thomas Mann

Mann won a Nobel Prize for Literature in part because of this sprawling story of a German family, based heavily on his own history. The Buddenbrooks are a wealthy merchant family that slowly falls apart over the course of four generations in the mid-1800s. Buddenbrooks remains popular in Germany to this day and was an inspiration to William Faulkner, among many others.

Buddenbrooks

By Thomas Mann

Buy Famine at Amazon

Famine

By Liam O'Flaherty

Famine makes the horrible history of the Irish Potato Famine almost too real for its readers. The Kilmartins, a family of tenant farmers in western Ireland, struggle to survive as their mainstay crop vanishes overnight, with no help in sight from the British government.

Famine

By Liam O'Flaherty

Buy Jazz Moon at Amazon

Jazz Moon

By Joe Okonkwo

Alternating between Paris and Harlem, Jazz Moon tells the story of two young men, a poet and a trumpet player, looking for that one place where they will find life, love, and the art that they know awaits. This lyrically-written novel beautifully evokes the very feeling of the Harlem Renaissance and Paris in the 1920s.

Historical Fiction Set in North America

Buy A Rendezvous in Haiti at Amazon

A Rendezvous in Haiti

By Stephen Becker

U.S. marine Lieutenant Robert MacAllister has been sent to Haiti to put down a rebellion in 1919. This thrilling tale delves into the political state of Haiti, racial politics, and love in times of war.

A Rendezvous in Haiti

By Stephen Becker

Buy Lincoln in the Bardo at Amazon

Lincoln in the Bardo

By George Saunders

Saunders took home the Man Booker prize for this novel—just the second American author to receive the UK's prestigious literary award. Set during the American Civil Lincoln in the Bardo focuses on—who else?—Abraham Lincoln and his eleven-year-old son, Willie, who is gravely ill. Despite hopes of a recovery, Willie soon passes to the other side of the veil. Yet he’s far from gone. Spirited away to a purgatory (or "bardo"), young Willie finds himself surrounded by fellow spirits each with a story to tell. Blending historical fact with otherworldly fiction, Saunders' novel is a moving exploration of history and grief, told in his signature sense of humor. 

Lincoln in the Bardo

By George Saunders

Buy As Tears Go By: Inspired by True Events at Amazon

As Tears Go By: Inspired by True Events

By Rosie Christie

This intensely emotional story will tug at your heartstrings. When Maria, a Cree woman raised in residential schools, discovers that her children will be sent off to the same schools, she will stop at nothing to save them. The legacy of sending native Canadians to residential schools is a black mark on history, and this novel begins to reckon with that legacy.

As Tears Go By: Inspired by True Events

By Rosie Christie

Buy Monkey Hunting at Amazon

Monkey Hunting

By Cristina García

Set in both Cuba and China, Monkey Hunting follows multiple generations of the Chen family. García does not shy away from any of the less-than-ideal facts about Cuba, Chinese immigration there, the use of slaves, and more.

Monkey Hunting

By Cristina García

Buy Rilla of Ingleside at Amazon

Rilla of Ingleside

By L.M. Montgomery

Yes, this is an entry in L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables series. But it’s also a quietly stunning portrait of a Canadian family during World War I. The only book from the Anne series to really take in the outside world, watching Rilla grow and mature through the years of World War I will affect any reader.

Rilla of Ingleside

By L.M. Montgomery

Buy The Trade at Amazon

The Trade

By Fred Stenson

The fur trade made Canada and northern New England very prosperous areas in the 1800s. Stenson’s novel delves into the often dark facts behind the romanticized industry. It won a number of prestigious Canadian literature awards upon its release in 2010.

The Trade

By Fred Stenson

Historical Fiction Set in South America

Buy The House of the Spirits at Amazon

The House of the Spirits

By Isabel Allende

Allende’s classic novel is best known as magical realism, but it’s also a compelling look at the political and historical reality of its time period. The unnamed “the President” is clearly modeled after Allende’s own cousin, Salvador Allende, who became president of Chile in 1970, while “the Poet” is Pablo Neruda. You shouldn’t read The House of the Spirits for straight facts, but it lends immeasurable insight into the lives of Chilean families at the time.

The House of the Spirits

By Isabel Allende

Buy The Discovery of America by the Turks at Amazon

The Discovery of America by the Turks

By Jorge Amado

Two Arab imigrants arrive in Southern Bahia, Brazil to discover a stunningly lawless land, akin to the Wild West of American imagination. This slim book is funny, light, and informative.

The Discovery of America by the Turks

By Jorge Amado

Buy Distant Star at Amazon

Distant Star

By Roberto Bolaño

Set during the 1973 Chilean coup d’etat, Distant Star is narrated by an unnamed man who is obsessed with poet and air force pilot Alberto Ruiz-Tagle. Bolaño is one of the stars of Chilean and Central American literature, and Distant Star is one of his darkest and best novels.

Distant Star

By Roberto Bolaño

Buy Spilt Milk at Amazon

Spilt Milk

By Chico Buarque

Buarque, in addition to his novels, is a prolific and beloved songwriter in Brazil. His fourth novel, Split Milk, follows a dying aristocrat in Brazil who is looking back on his life from his hospital bed. The novel is particularly interested with the history of slavery in Brazil, colonialism, and how people experience their memories.

Spilt Milk

By Chico Buarque

Buy The Villagers (Huasipungo) at Amazon

The Villagers (Huasipungo)

By Jorge Icaza

One of the best known Indigenist novels of Ecuador, The Villagers is a social protest novel, first published in 1934. Often compared to Steinbeck’s 1939 Grapes of Wrath, this novel describes the plight of the indigenous people of Ecuador and other South American countries. 

The Villagers (Huasipungo)

By Jorge Icaza

Buy The Feast of the Goat at Amazon

The Feast of the Goat

By Mario Vargas Llosa

Urania Cabral, now in her late 40s, returns to Santo Domingo to care for her dying father. Coming back home forces Urania to confront the memories of her youth under the rule of Trujillo. Vargas Llosa is a premier Peruvian writer, and his insight into the effects of Trujillo’s reigns do not go unappreciated.

The Feast of the Goat

By Mario Vargas Llosa

Buy The General in His Labyrinth at Amazon

The General in His Labyrinth

By Gabriel García Márquez

Márquez’s most political and historical novel is a fictionalized take on the final days of Simòn Bolívar, the man most responsible for the success of independence movements in South America.

The General in His Labyrinth

By Gabriel García Márquez

Buy The City of Palaces at Amazon

The City of Palaces

By Michael Nava

When Miguel Sarmiento and Alicia Gavilán meet while working in a Mexico City jail, their lives change paths forever. The Mexican Revolution is about to begin, and their lives will not be able to continue on in bliss. The historical characters are faithfully drawn, while the fictional characters feel just as vibrant and real.

The City of Palaces

By Michael Nava

Buy The Seamstress at Amazon

The Seamstress

By Frances de Pontes Peebles

Sisters Emília and Luzia are both trained as seamstresses in a small village of Brazil, always hoping to leave their home. When Luzia is abducted and Emília is married, their lives follow incredibly different paths.

The Seamstress

By Frances de Pontes Peebles

Featured photo: Daniel Beilinson / Unsplash  

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Published on 06 Sep 2018

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