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Recommended historical fiction, memoirs, and mysteries by people of color.

August 13, 2014


Aarti is again hosting a A More Diverse Universe at her blog Booklust from September 14 to 27.  All you need to do is read one book by a person of color and list it at her blog.  I am thrilled she is doing this again and want to be supportive.  She offered suggestions in several genres that people might have trouble finding books by non-white authors.  Here are more recommendations from my own reading and blogging.  Links take you to my reviews.

Books like these are my favorite reading and you can find more on my blog, including lots of fiction by women and men of color.  You can find them categorized by continent or by searching by country. American authors are categorized by ethnicity.  For a time I hosted Global Women of Color.  More suggestions and reviews are listed there as well as lists of the recommendations of others.



The Moor’s Account, by Laila Lalami.   A fine retelling of the story of Cabez de Vaca and three other survivors who explored the southwestern United States in the 1500s, as told by a Moroccan author from the perspective of Estaban/Mustafa, a slave.

Evening is the Whole Day, by Preeta Samrasan.  An intricate novel about a family of Indian descent in post-colonial Malaysia; a family, like their country, full of secrets, anger and long-held resentments.

That Deadman Dance, by Kim Scott.   A prize-winning novel about the initial interactions of whites and blacks on the southwestern coast of Australia around 1800 by an Indigenous writer.

The Twentieth Wife, by Indu Sundaresan.   Old-fashioned historical fiction set India during the rule of the Mughals around 1600 with lots of romance, intrigue, and violence.

Shanghai Girls  and Dreams of Joy by Lisa See.  Two related novels set in China and California from the 1930s to the 1950s as family members come to the USA and return to China. Or any of  her other enjoyable books.

A Far Horizon, by Meira Chand. An historical novel set in Calcutta in 1756 about events in the British colony leading up to its conquest and destruction by a native ruler.

Ancestor Stones, by Aminatta Forna.   The interwoven stories of four wives of the same man in West Africa whose lives span the twentieth century.

Equal of the Sun, by Anita Amirrezvani. A sweeping historical novel set in Persia in the 1500s where the daughter of the Shah and the eunuch who serves her are caught in a struggle for power.

Near the Hope, by Jennifer Davis Carey. A gentle novel about a young woman leaving Barbados and coming to Brooklyn in the early 1900s, a true story recreated by her granddaughter.

The Makioka Sisters, by Junichiro Tanizaki.  A Japanese classic telling the stories of four sisters of an aristocratic family trying to live up to their traditional roles as the country modernizes before World War II.

Gloryland: A Novel, by Shelton Johnson.  A lyrical novel by an African American National Park Ranger about a man growing up in the Reconstruction South, becoming a Buffalo Soldier, and being assigned to patrol Yosemite where he is shaped by the beauty and the silence of the mountains.

Raj: A Novel, by Gita Mehta.   Another traditional  historical novel about a woman in India who was the daughter of one Raj, wife of another, and mother/regent for another during the last half century of British rule.

This Earth of Mankind, by Pramoedya Ananta Toer.  Set in the Dutch East Indies in the 1890s, and addressing the complex costs of colonization.

A Persian Requiem, by Simin Daneshvar. A moving Iranian novel set during World War II and centered on a wife and mother struggling with her competing loyalties.

The Garden of the Evening Mist, by Tan Twan Eng. A novel flowing around a mysterious Japanese garden in the highlands of Malaysia and narrated by a Chinese woman scarred by her experiences in a Japanese concentration camp during World War II.

Cracking India, by Bapsi Sidhwa.  A powerful novel by a Pakistani woman about people turning violently on each other during the Partition of India in 1947, told through the voice of a young girl who barely understands what is taking place.

Ghost Bride, by Yangsze Choo. An historical fantasy about a young Malaysian woman of Chinese descent in the 1890s pursued by ghosts and exploring the afterworld of Chinese folktales.

Carmelo, by Sandra Cisneros.   Four generations of a family moving back and forth between Mexico and Chicago as a young girl grows into womanhood—and much more by a leading Latina writer.

The Palace Walk, by Naguib Mahfouz. A novel about a family in Cairo at the time of World War I by the first Arab writer to win the Noble Prize in Literature.

Segu, by Maryse Conde.  Impressive historical fiction set in 19th century West Africa where Islam and slave trading are changing people’s lives.  Review to follow as soon as I finish it.



Each of these histories is enhanced by the fact they are written by individuals from within the groups they have described.  If we are diligent and sensitive, we may all write the history of anybody, but as these books reveal,  scholarship by “insiders” can be particularly insightful.

The Hanging of Angelique:  The Untold Story of Canadian Slavery and the Burning of Old Montreal, by Afua Cooper.   A wide-ranging history by a black Canadian woman focusing on a slave woman and the context of her life in colonial Montreal, slavery in Canada and the international Atlanta Slave Trade.

Empress Dowager Cixi: The Concubine who Launched Modern China, by Jung Chang.  An enjoyable and informative biography of the woman who, as regent, was the virtual ruler of China for over 30 years, by the author of Wild Swans.

Unbound Feet: A Social History of Chinese Women in San Francisco, by Judy Yung.   An excellent history of Chinese American women in San Francisco from the 1902 to 1945, written by a scholar who grew up there.

To ‘Joy My Freedom: Southern Black Women’s Lives and Labors after the Civil War, by Tera W. Hunter.  Careful and readable history of black women in Atlanta, Georgia, based on an amazing diversity of sources.



 A Princess Remembers: The Memoirs of the Mahrani of Jaiper,  by Gayatri Devi.  A detailed autobiography by a woman who grew up as a princess in India in the early 20th century and was the wife of a Maharaja when India became independent.

A Border Passage: From Cairo to America–A Woman’s Journey, by Leila Ahmed. An autobiography by a feminist scholar who explores her own experience of colonization and her own identity as an Egyptian, a Muslim, an Arab woman.

First Darling of the Morning: Selected Memories of an Indian Childhood, by Thrity Umrigar.  A vivid memoir by an Indian author of her childhood and adolescence in Bombay’s Parsi community.

Dreams in a Time of War: A Childhood Memoir, by Ngugi Wa Thiong’o.  A memoir by a well-known African author about growing up in rural Kenya and attending school during the 1950s violence there.

Borderlands, La Frontera, The New Mestiza, by Gloria Anzaldúa. An statement of identity and vision by a radical, Chicana, lesbian feminist.

Fault lines, by Meena Alexander. A memoir of growing up in southwest India and Sudan and then coming to the United States written by a poet who sharply feels the gulf between her past and present.

You Must Set Forth At Dawn, by Wole Soyinkra.  A memoir of a Nigarian Noble Prize winner about his own involvement in the opposition to dictatorships. At the top of my TBR list.



The Cutting Season, by Attica Locke.  A suspense-filled mystery, a tender account of mother-daughter relations, and a “meditation” on how we deal with our personal and societal past, even when it as painful as slavery, by an African American woman from Louisiana.

Black Star Nairobi, by Mukoma Wa Ngugi.  A detective story set against the backdrop of violence in Kenya that raises political and moral questions about “doing good.”

A Beautiful Place to DieLet the Dead LieBlessed are the Dead,  Present Darkness,  Malla Nunn‘s wonderful mysteries set in South Africa during the absurdities of apartheid.  Listed in the order they should be read.




5 Comments leave one →
  1. aartichapati permalink
    August 17, 2014 11:30 am

    Thanks so much for making this list! There are many listed above that I haven’t read yet, so I’ll be sure to come back here when I am looking for something in particular. So glad you are participating 🙂

  2. September 22, 2015 4:26 pm

    Thanks for your words and for sharing these books. Marilyn


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