Monday, October 24, 2011

When Then Was Now at the Vancouver International Writers and Readers Festival

some of my ticket stubs...
Historical fiction was the unifying element for the four authors in Saturday’s When Then Was Now panel. C.C. (Chris) Humphreys’ latest novel, A Place Called Armageddon, is about the fall of Constantinople. He said a historical novelist “jumps into the gaps in history” and “facts are, more often than not, interpretations.”

Esi Edugyan feels it is most important to get to the essence of real-life characters, and that makes it alright to make slight alterations to historical details. In giving voice to her African-American musicians in WWII Paris in Half Blood Blues, Edugyan meshed patois of the era with invented slang and more contemporary phrasing.

The Reinvention of Love is also set in Paris, but in the 19th century. Helen Humphreys grew so fond of her character Saint-Beuve that she gave him a somewhat happier ending than he had in real life. I was thrilled that she read from one of the same sections that I quoted in my review, where a poet challenges Saint-Beuve to a duel.

I’ve also reviewed Randy Boyagoda’s amazing new novel, Beggar’s Feast. He talked about finding the balance between the personal and the history, an especially tricky thing for him since he based his Sam Kandy character on a distant relative. (Imagine learning that a family member had killed two wives with no legal repercussions. Shades of Bluebeard…)

In response to a question about how modern concerns affect historical fiction, Helen Humphreys said literary petty jealousies are as relevant today as they were in Saint-Beuve’s time. Boyagoda’s publisher wanted Sam to have “a Dr. Phil moment when the emotions of the main character became available,” but Sam was not that sort of man and not at all of that era. Wars are perennially of interest, while the ideas of citizenship and belonging from Half Blood Blues are certainly relevant to readers today.


Claire at Latitude said...

I wish I'd read Half-Blood Blues before I heard Esi Edugyan at Vancouver. But it was hearing her that made me want to read the book, which I may not have discovered otherwise, and it's been great to do so and now return to your book review and this post to see what you quoted from the session. Thank you for this great community service!

Lindy said...

Claire, I'm glad that you liked Edugyan's book too. Like you, I didn't read it until after hearing her speak in Vancouver.