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History vs. Historical Fiction

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Today’s question: Given the choice, which do you prefer? Real history? Or historical fiction? (Assume, for the purposes of this discussion that they are equally well-written and engaging.)

I tend to read more historical fiction than history because the latter is usually a companion to travel and vacation. When I went to Angkor Wat in Cambodia back in 2004, Charles Higham’s Civilization of Angkor, which draws on the latest research on prehistoric archaeology, epigraphy, and art history to reconstruct a detailed chronicle of a remarkable civilization, accompanied my visiting of the ruins and gave a better understanding of architectural style quintessential of and the temples erected during the fourth phase (800-1400 AD) of Angkor civilization. Three years later, on my trip to Malaysia and parts of Thailand and Burma, W. Somerset Maugham’s The Gentleman in the Palour almost never left my hands as I followed Maugham’s travel and saw what he saw. He imparts to these remains a new life with an eloquence that is made possible from an idle curiosity and observative minuteness. Maugham’s account is a hybrid of travel narrative and history, dissecting the lives of the natives without a polarized vision. Back home I peruse historical fiction that will take me over time’s interval. I am interested not only in historical fiction but also particular historical periods. Edwardian literature and literature around 1940s always capture my attention.

2 Responses

  1. I love the idea of travelling around with a favorite author as guide! Must try that instead of “Lonely Planet” on my next trip.

    • Lonely Planet is my choice of travel guide especially I often travel alone. But I make sure to incorporate in the reading list some travelogue/memoir of favorite authors.

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