Peek Into the Lives of Writers, Architects, Mountain Climbers in These Books

Galaxie Library staff member Marsha Redman offers her biographical fiction picks this month.

Go back to Jazz-Age Paris or to the top of Mount Everest while looking into fictional accounts of the lives of real historical figures. staff member Marsha Redman recommends:

The Paris Wife by Paula McLain

In the 1920s, 20-year-old Ernest Hemingway met and married his first wife, Hadley Richardson.  After a quick courtship and marriage, the two sailed to Paris and became part of the “Lost Generation” along with literary figures such as Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound and others notables from this era. Through Hadley’s voice, The Paris Wife tells the story of the great love, ambition, betrayal and eventual unraveling of Hemingway’s first marriage and provides a fascinating glimpse into Jazz Age Paris.

Paths of Glory by Jeffrey Archer

In 1921 George Mallory resigned his post as a teacher at England’s Charterhouse school  in  order to pursue his greatest ambition—to be first to reach the summit of Mt. Everest.  In 1924, after two failed attempts, he hoped to begin his third attempt and to reach the summit before his Australian competitor, George Finch.   On June 8th, 1924 George Mallory and Andrew Irvine attempted to climb to the top of Mount Everest via the Northeast Ridge route.  Fellow climber, Noel Odell, reported seeing them on the North-East ridge, "close to the final pyramid and going strongly for the top." Their bodies were not discovered until 1999, and there is no evidence that they finally reached the summit, although there has been much speculation about it since the climb.  Archer does offer his personal conclusion at the end of this memorable account.

Loving Frank by Nancy Horan

Martha “Mamah” Borthwick Cheney and famous 19th century architect, Frank Lloyd Wright were involved in what was considered a scandalous relationship during their lifetimes.  Renowned for his concept of “organic architecture,” Wright was just beginning his career when he was commissioned to build a house for Edwin and Mamah Cheney.  The relationship between Frank and Mamah continued to progress until they each left their families to build a life together.  Although they were ostracized by much of society, they remained together until Frank built Taliesin, the home they shared until a violent tragedy took the life of Mama and her children.  “Loving Frank is a remarkable literary achievement, tenderly acute and even-handed in even the most heartbreaking moments, and an auspicious debut from a writer to watch.”

The Winthrop Woman by Anya Seton

This well-researched novel tells the story of Elizabeth Winthrop, an actual historical figure living in 17th-century Puritan New England.  Born Elizabeth Fones in 1610, Elizabeth married her first cousin Henry Winthrop, son of the Massachusetts Bay Colony governor, John Winthrop.  In 1629 her young husband left her in England (because of her pregnancy) and sailed to New England without her.  After her baby was born, Elizabeth sailed to New England with her baby, even though her husband drowned after visiting an Indian village near Salem.  In spite of her connection with the powerful Winthrop family, Elizabeth had an independent nature.  Her nonconformist ways put her in harm’s way and she risked her very life during this time of “suspicion, violence, religious zeal and political anxiety." This is a historical novel that is epic in its telling, beautifully written, and one to be savored until the very last page is turned.

Jefferson’s Sons: a Founding Father’s Secret Sons by Kimberly Bradley

This story is told from the perspective of three of Thomas Jefferson’s young slaves.  Two of them were his own sons, born to his slave (and his wife’s half-sister), Sally Hemings. The book is written for a young audience (9-14 years), and is sensitive in its treatment of some difficult issues young readers may be confronting for the first time—such as reconciling the qualities of a man who wrote our Declaration of Independence, yet also held his own children as slaves.  One review of the book states, “Jefferson's actions will continue to be picked apart and debated for as long as we have a country. This book, I trust, will figure prominently in continuing to spark that debate… A must read.”


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