What inspires a writer of historical fiction? We spoke recently with Eva Stachniak, author of the newly released The Winter Palace, as well as Garden of Venus and her debut novel, the contemporary fiction Necessary Lies, about her top book picks of all time. Here are her choices and why she loves them.
1. Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy, $10
I have read and re-read Anna Karenina several times, always finding the novel perfect in its mixture of particular and universal. It is a tragic love story, it is a spiritual journey through Russia, it is a masterful portrait of a society in transition and — above all — it illuminates the inner workings of the human heart.
2. View With a Grain of Sand, Wislawa Szymborska, $35
A collection of profoundly moving and yet often playful poems. I love this collection because Szymborska, a Nobel prize–winning Polish poet, speaks in simple words and yet nothing in her poems is simple. Her voice, her sensibility, her observations, borne out of a century of tragic turmoils, are both wise and illuminating. She has been called Poland’s “guardian spirit.” I think of her as a guardian spirit of us all.
3. Wolf Hall, Hilary Mantel, $25
A superb historical novel set in Tudor England in which brilliant Thomas Cromwell navigates the treacherous world of court politics and domestic obligations. Mantel’s writing is rich and intricate in period details, and at the same time it never loses its focus. When I finished it, I knew I would have to return to it again and again, for guidance and for the sheer pleasure of reading.
4. A Tale of Love and Darkness, Amoz Oz, $20
An extraordinary memoir of an Israeli writer who has witnessed the birth of his country and lived through its difficult and painful history. Oz is unflinching in showing the clashing cultures and sensibilities of Arabs and Israelis, the love and darkness that have touched him as a man and as a writer. His is a wise voice, a testament to his family and his country, their tragic conflicts and bitter secrets.
5. The Progress of Love, Alice Munro, $19
I love Munro’s stories from all her collections, but this is the one I have re-read most often. She evokes the past and the present with its diversity and unpredictability with utter and unfailing mastery. I think of her as my guide to Canada’s inner landscapes, to what I have missed by not being born here.