Z, Therese Anne Fowler

I didn't much care for this fictional retelling of Zelda Fitzgerald's life with F. Scott; it's entertaining enough, but I suppose a straight-up biography like Nancy Milford's Zelda---or even a great piece on reading Zelda, like this one in the Oxford American---would do just as well. 

If you're looking for a historical fiction fix, I'd suggest Fever (on Typhoid Mary) or Marisa Silver's superb Mary Coin (on Dorothea Lange and her Migrant Mother). But my finishing the book coincided with the University of South Carolina's digital release of F. Scott Fitzgerald's ledger, discussed in Z. The fascinating document is worth a look: you can see Scott's notes on "published miscelani," gawk at "Zelda's earnings," or even view an "outline chart" of his life.

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Mary Coin, Marisa Silver


Dorothea Lange's Migrant Mother, left, is the jumping off point for Marisa Silver's novel examining the way images persist and interact with history.

Silver weaves three narratives---that of the photographer, the migrant mother, and a professor---together masterfully. But just as entrancing as the arc of the story itself is Silver's writing, reflective and revealing and beautifully strung together. She offers new ways of looking at history, emphasizing the importance of critically examining our world. Perhaps the inquisitiveness of the professor character best demonstrates this:

He doesn’t know what the project will ultimately yield. He doesn’t want to know. Not now. Because answers are inert things that stop inquiry. They make you think you have finished looking. But you are never finished. There are always discoveries that will turn everything you think you know on its head and that will make you ask all over again: Who are we?

HHhH, Laurent Binet

Laurent Binet's HHhH, a historical fiction that loudly grapples with its own classification as such, tells the story of Operation Anthropoid---the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich, one of the architects of the Final Solution in Hitler's regime.

I struggled a bit with the odd self-awareness of the narrator (ostensibly Binet himself, at least according to an interview he gave to the Guardian), but it was a captivating story, interventions to discuss literary theory and the burdens of truth notwithstanding.

"The dead are dead, and it makes no difference to them whether I pay homage to their deeds. But for us, the living, it does mean something," Binet writes.


This morning, I went for a run. My husband stopped at an ATM, and I caught my breath on the corner, listlessly observing the boarded-up houses, an old payphone booth with the receiver ripped off. On one of the booth's metal planes, someone had scrawled a note with a permanent marker. The note was in German. I took a picture because, for one reason or another, it bothered me. At home, on the Internet, I discovered that the words I saw were the official motto of the SS. A strange coincidence, to be sure, that I was reading a book so clearly situated in World War II, the time of the Nazis. I reflected and held the history of it closer to me.

"Memory is of no use to the remembered, only to those who remember. We build ourselves with memory and console ourselves with memory." Grand reclaimings of the genre of historical fiction aside, HHhH is a provocative call to those of us slipping into the close comfort of the here and now.