You Won't Believe These Novels Are Inspired by True Stories
They say that sometimes truth is stranger than fiction, and in many cases, that saying is absolutely true! Some of the wildest stories in fiction are those that aren't entirely fictional after all but are based on real events and real people. While some "true story" books are more in the style of memoirs, others are mixed with elements of fiction into novels. If you're participating in the 2019 POPSUGAR Reading Challenge and looking for a book to fulfill that "novel based on a true story" prompt, then we've got just what you need: a gallery full of books that are inspired by or based on true stories. Keep reading to check out our picks!
In the Time of the Butterflies
During the dictatorship of Rafael Trujillo in the Dominican Republic, the four Mirabel sisters were freedom fighters and, eventually, martyrs. In Julia Alvarez's In the Time of the Butterflies, the sisters dedicate themselves to political resistance and activism, despite the mounting threats and retaliation on their families from the government. Ultimately, one sister is left to tell their story, and the novel switches perspectives to narrate their lives and allow them to tell their own stories.
The Things They Carried
One of the best-known tales of the Vietnam War, Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried is an interconnected series of stories based on the real experiences of American soldiers in Vietnam. The narrative switches back and forth between memories of the horrors of war and the difficulties of adjusting to life back home when battle is through.
The White Queen
Kate Middleton won't be England's first "commoner" queen: that would be Elizabeth Woodville, wife of the Plantagenet King Edward IV and one of the more unpopular queens in earlier histories, thanks to her enemies slandering her as a witch. In The White Queen, Philippa Gregory tells a semifictionalized version of Elizabeth's life. The details of the Wars of the Roses are rooted firmly in reality; the descriptions of witchcraft probably aren't.
Without a Country
One of the untold stories of World War II is how the Turkish government offered asylum to a handful of German academics and their families. In Ayse Kulin's Without a Country, one such professor and his family make the journey to Turkey, but as the years and generations pass, they struggle with their dual identities and the continuing specter of anti-Semitism, even up to the present day.
Ernest Hemingway had a pretty complicated love life. In Beautiful Exiles, Meg Waite Clayton depicts one of the most complicated love affairs of the Lost Generation artists: between Hemingway and Martha Gellhorn, a brilliant journalist who met Hemingway while they were covering the Spanish Civil War. Both were passionate and ambitious individuals, and their romance blossomed (and become tumultuous) as both gained renown in their respective professions.
Charmaine Craig is the only person who could have written Miss Burma. Why? Because "Miss Burma" was her mother, Burma's first beauty queen before the country's civil war resulted in a dictatorship. The narrative begins with Benny and Khin, a couple who survive Burma's Japanese occupation in World War II, before focusing on their daughter Louise, whose beauty title is both a blessing and a curse as she navigates her ethnic heritage and the ongoing struggles within her own country.
Mrs. Sherlock Holmes
No, it's not about Sherlock Holmes's wife. Brad Ricca's Mrs. Sherlock Holmes covers the 1917 missing-girl case that launched the career of Grace Humiston, the famous female detective whose talents earned her the moniker of the title. When an 18-year-old socialite goes missing in New York City, Grace and her partner tackle the case, despite pushback from the "real" police and an unending string of false leads and double-crossing witnesses.
In the category of "this will give you nightmares," it turns out that Peter Benchley's Jaws is actually inspired by true events. In 1916, shark attacks along the Jersey shore left four dead and one injured. Over the course of two weeks in July, a string of shark attacks terrorized the shore and caused a nationwide panic. The public went wild trying to identify the sharks, and the previously ignored species became a symbol of aquatic horror.
The Good People
In one of the stranger cases in modern history, a woman in 19th-century Ireland was accused of murdering a young boy but was acquitted after arguing the boy was actually a fairy "changeling." Hannah Kent's The Good People fictionalizes this real case by telling the story of three women — a grandmother, a maid, and a wise woman — who are caring for a child they can't quite understand.
Better known as "the movie that finally got Leonardo DiCaprio his Oscar," The Revenant actually began as a novel by Michael Punke, based on an unbelievable true story. Hugh Glass is a 19th-century trapper in the Rocky Mountains. When he is attacked by a grizzly bear, his colleagues leave him for dead instead of assisting him. Hugh survives and begins a cross-country trek in search of revenge.
The ultimate story of rising from nothing to hold the reins of power, Empress Orchid by Anchee Min is the first in a two-part tale of the last empress of China. Tzu Hsi begins as an ordinary country girl whose beauty gets her noticed and brought to the imperial court as a concubine. Intelligent and charming, she soon finds herself being more and more powerful in court, and when the outside world begins closing in on China, she is the one person capable of holding China together.
Girl Waits With Gun
The true stories forgotten by history are some of the best inspirations for novels. Amy Stewart uses Girl Waits With Gun to revisit the story of Constance Kopp, one of America's first female sheriffs. After being subjected to a barrage of criminal retaliation over a minor traffic incident, Constance teams up with the local sheriff to assist in holding the culprits responsible. Even better: she teams up with her sisters, too, for some good old-fashioned girl power.
In 1829 Iceland, a young woman was accused of a brutal murder. In Hannah Kent's Burial Rites, the story of the young woman, Agnes, is explored for the first time. More than just a "true crime" narrative, the novel focuses on Agnes's own tragic story and the rumors that spread following her conviction, painting a portrait of fear and whispers alongside that of a dignified woman who has done her best with what life has given her.
Nancy Horan's Loving Frank depicts a real-life clandestine affair between famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright and Mamah Borthwick Cheney, one half of a couple who hired him to design their Chicago home. The affair was real, but the details scarcely known, as Wright's fame and success utterly eclipsed this brief romance. In this novel, Mamah takes center stage, narrating how she and Frank — both married — came to fall into an affair that would change both their lives forever.
The Accidental Empress
In Allison Pataki's The Accidental Empress, readers get a glimpse into one of the most famously beautiful royal women of all time: Elisabeth (or "Sisi"), the Empress of Austria. A bright, passionate young woman, Sisi is surprised when Emperor Franz Joseph chooses to marry her instead of her sister, as intended. The fairy tale quickly fades as Sisi struggles to adjust to the formal Austrian court and to her domineering mother-in-law, but she finds her purpose in supporting the Hungarian people.
The Invention of Wings
The women of the abolition movement are often largely forgotten or relegated to footnotes in history books. With The Invention of Wings, Sue Monk Kidd draws our attention to the Grimke sisters, Sarah and Angelina, who were at the forefront of both the abolitionist and women's suffrage movements. At the center is the relationship between Southern-born Sarah and her maid since childhood, Handful, who both dream of something more but are hemmed in by their gender and, in Handful's case, the color of her skin.
The Man Who Walked Away
It's one of those stories so bizarre, it hardly seems like it could be true: a psychiatric patient who is overwhelmed by the urge to keep walking, no matter the toll it takes. The Man Who Walked Away is Maud Casey's fictionalized version of the narrative. In this telling, Albert's wanderings are accompanied with a constant loss of memory and identity, even as he seeks out a doctor who might be able to help him reassemble something of his life.
Anne Boleyn: A King's Obsession
Historical novelist Alison Weir has set the task of writing novels depicting all six Tudor queens, from Catherine of Aragon to Catherine Parr. But it's Anne Boleyn who has captured the public imagination, and it's her story in Anne Boleyn: A King's Obsession. Because so much of Tudor history is hard to find or was destroyed, many details of Anne's life and inner thoughts are lost to history. Weir constructs a portrait of the queen stereotyped as the "scheming" one to tell the story of a devout, intelligent woman whose downfall was the very man who was obsessed with possessing her.
I Was Anastasia
You definitely have heard the true story of the Romanovs, the last Russian imperial family who were overthrown and eventually murdered by the Bolshevik regime. You definitely have heard of Anastasia, the youngest grand duchess who was the subject of survival rumors (plus an animated movie and a Broadway musical) for decades. But you might not have heard of the other woman whose story inspired Ariel Lawhon's I Was Anastasia: Anna Anderson, the Polish factory worker who was the most credible and famous Anastasia impostor. Throughout the novel, which flashes back between Anastasia's life in the revolution and the present-day narrator's attempts to regain her memories, the mystery persists as to whether the narrator is actually royalty or just a madwoman.
Circling the Sun
If you've ever seen the movie Out of Africa, you know a little about the romance between Karen Blixen and adventurer Denys Finch-Hatton. Circling the Sun, by Paula McLain, focuses on the untold true story of the third member of their love triangle: Beryl Markham, a trailblazing aviator and infamous socialite. Raised in Africa on a horse farm, Beryl is an adventurous spirit and suffers through several misguided romances before falling for Denys — but even their love story isn't a happy one.