These Historical Fiction Heroines Are Sure To Inspire Your Modern-Day Feminism

September 7, 2018

Though the majority of published literature is centered on the male experience, we are fortunate that more and more great writing is being released that tells the story of the female experience throughout history. Women take up 50% of the world and throughout the dramas and comedies of (wo)mankind have lived dynamic lives filled with uncertainty, trials, love, and hope.

With today’s modern America experiencing another wave of feminism, it makes sense that women and men should do their best to learn about the experience of the female gender during different eras of human society. Historical Fiction is a wonderful genre and a female protagonist offers a perspective and a story that a male protagonist cannot. Below is a list of recommended Historical Fiction novels centered around the female experience, for you to explore. I promise that you will be both touched and entertained. And perhaps you will even be inspired to live your best life, adding to history, and creating an amazing story of your own.

Happy reading, bookworms!

Cora–Underground Railroad (2016) by Colson Whitehead

This PulitzerPrize winning novel that was endorsed by Barack Obama is set in perhaps the darkest period and place of United States history: Slavery in the South. It follows the story of Cora, a female slave, as she escapes the Georgia plantation where she and her mother grew up and suffered repeatedly under the hand of the plantation owners. On her long, pulse-quickening journey through marshes, orchards, towns, and cities of the South and Midwest, Cora encounters a few friends and many foes, navigating the world not only as an escaped slave, but as a female escaped slave. With admirable pluck, spirit, and some luck, she faces the brutal realities of being a black woman in America during this period. This one-of-a-kind story of slavery and freedom captures truth after truth.

Tita–Like Water for Chocolate (1989) by Laura Esquivel 

The backdrop of this beautiful story is the Mexican Revolution, and the setting is Mexico near San Antonio during a period of history long before Mexico/US border issues existed as they do today. This book is many things: a love story, a story of a mother oppressing her daughter, a story of sisters, and a story of the strong spirit of transformation and rebellion during the Mexican Revolution. The protagonist uses food and recipes to communicate her repressed emotions, and the reader is consumed by Mexican Magical Realism, and questions of innocence versus tradition.

Carolina and Kasia–Lilac Girls (2016) by Martha Hall Kelly

Set during World War II, this NYT Best Seller and National Indie Best Seller follows the linked stories of three separate women in three separate places: An upper-class New Yorker with an apartment in Paris, a Polish Catholic girl in Nazi-occupied Poland, and a German Doctor who is employed by the Nazis at a concentration camp. This well-researched piece of Historical Fiction exhibits the challenges that each unique character endeavors to face during the Second World War, while their lives intertwine. It is a great example of how the waves of history affect individuals in profound ways and change their lives forever.

Olanna and Kainene–Half of a Yellow Sun (2007) by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

In 2007 this book won the Orange Prize for Fiction and was a New York Times “100 Most Notable Books of the Year”. Following the intertwining stories of several characters in Nigeria leading up to and during the Nigerian Civil War, this novel teaches a non-Nigerian reader about Nigerian culture and society. Two of the characters are sisters with opposing personalities: One is beautiful and the way she is treated is often dictated by her looks, and the other is a sharp businesswoman endowed with independence and fierceness. Their lives change forever as the war cuts deeply into their goals and well-being. The novel tells the story of post-colonial Nigeria, sister relationships, tradition, and individual identity as the reader is taken on a journey of learning and social unrest in West Africa.

Mariam and Laila–A Thousand Splendid Suns (2007) by Khaled Hosseini

This New York Times Best Seller is set in Kabul, Afghanistan prior to and post- the Taliban rise to power. This novel may be identified as the sister to Hosseini’s Award Winning novel Kite Runner, as it is also the story of Afghani culture and the Taliban’s rule, but rather than the story of a boy, this book is a mother-daughter story. The beauty and mystery of Afghani culture are displayed clearly, with the title of the novel taken from a 17th Century poem about the city of Kabul, yet it does not shy away from the cruelty of the Taliban and the horrific impact on girls and women living under its cruel whip.

Nitta–Memoirs of a Geisha (1999) by Arthur Golden

Though admittedly this National Best Seller did receive criticism, it is unarguably unique and tells a rarely told story: The story of a Japanese Geisha. Written with delicate precision and beauty that mirrors Japanese aesthetics, this novel is a first person account of the life of a Geisha set in vivid Japanese culture prior to and post WWII. This book has family, culture, challenges, and unexpected events. All in all, it is a great story of an uncommon yet famed experience, that few know from the inside.

JulietThe Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society (2009) by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

This novel spent 11 weeks at #1 on the New York Times Best Sellers List, and is full of charm and courage. This novel recounts events and occurrences in the life of a young writer years after WWII in the UK. Through a series of letter, the reader learns that during WWII the Nazis occupied the small island of Guernsey, and years later the writer visits the island to research a novel she is writing. While speaking with families she uncovers accounts of bravery, love, and compassion during difficult times, and the reader is left with the impression that history is amazing and filled with small stories of heroism that most likely will never emerge in a text book.Do you have your own favorite Historical Fiction with Female Protagonist? Which ones?

These Historical Fiction Heroines Are Sure To Inspire Your Modern-Day Feminism

What historical fiction work is your favorite?

Also by Anastasia: 8 Cult Classic Works Of Fiction To Read Before You’re 30

Related: Emma Watson’s Feminist Book Club Is Groundbreaking For Women Readers *And* Writers

Belletrist—Emma Roberts’ Instagram Book Club You Never Knew You Needed

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Anastasia is a creative writer, yogi, and self-proclaimed animal rescuer living in San Francisco. She has a Master's Degree in Literature and Film, and her passions include reading fiction, exploring California, and jumping in the Pacific Ocean. Follow Anastasia on Instagram @anastasiaartemisbailey.


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