Novels at a Revolution

It is said that history is written by the winners, but perhaps the best literature is written by those who did not fare so well. In this post, I take a look at books written about revolutions, all lyrical, most mourning a time gone by.

To Keep the Sun Alive by Rabeah Ghaffari is the tragedy of the Iranian Revolution writ small. A vibrant family that spans Iranian society wants things to both change and stay the same in this cinematic novel that leaves no doubt as to the centrality of poetry even in modern Iranian literature. Also a good pick for those interested in the causes and factions in the Iranian Revolution without the possible dryness of a nonfiction account.

Where do one's loyalties lie, and where should they? This is just one of the questions posed by Nuruddin Farah in Maps, set against the Somalian Civil War. Askar is adopted and raised by an Ethiopian immigrant in Somalia, but as he grows up, he desires to go to Mogadishu with its intellectual ferment and news of his birth father. Farah combines memory, dream, and folklore into this coming of age story, the first in a trilogy.

Carlos Fuentes writes of the Mexican Revolution in The Old Gringo. An American writer, a teacher, and a general in Pancho Villa's army form a Freudian love triangle. The identity of the writer is slowly revealed in this brief tale by one of Mexico's preeminent authors, whose characters face down myths and death.

Steven Doig is a lusty naturalist caught up in the chaos and score-settling of the Russian Revolution in White Blood by James Fleming. Returning to Smolensk and his bride after traveling Asia, he encounters a panoply of hilarious minor characters before the Bolsheviks triumph and show their true colors. Fleming keeps things moving in this suspenseful tale.

Another page-flipper with poetry and heart is Patricia Falvey's The Yellow House. Young Eileen O'Neill joins the Irish underground after her family is destroyed by forces beyond her control and falls in love with two men on opposite sides of the conflict. With a twisty-yet-plausible plot, this novel wears its considerable research lightly.

I will end with a revolution that has not yet taken place. In Seeing, José Saramago's sequel to Blindness, the political and media establishments are selected for ridicule. Four years after the events in Blindness, a European country holds elections in which most voters cast empty ballots. What to do? Just because Saramago has a Nobel for literature under his belt, doesn't mean he (and we) can't have fun in this compulsively-readable satire.

What are your favorite books about revolution? Tell us in the comments. 

We welcome your respectful and on-topic comments and questions in this limited public forum. To find out more, please see Appropriate Use When Posting Content. Community-contributed content represents the views of the user, not those of Chicago Public Library