Is There Room for Eastern European Historical Fiction?

Anna JagiellonkaIf you are like me, you may be rolling your eyes at the fact that so much historical fiction focuses on Western Europe, especially England and France. There is not a month that another Tudor novel does not come out, and Marie Antoinette has been done to death (forgive the pun). I love my seven wives of Henry VIII as much as anybody, but . .

Eastern European history is just as fascinating. It had just as robust a culture – in the areas of arts, religion, politics, and social trends – as the West. That was the case in the medieval period, the Renaissance, and early modern history as well. Eastern European monarchs – including those from the Jagiellonian dynasty that ruled Poland and Lithuania for 200 years – frequently intermarried with other prominent aristocratic families of Europe, including the Habsburgs and the Valois.

As one example, King Zygmunt (Sigismund) the Old of Poland married Italian noblewoman Bona Sforza, heiress to the Duchies of Milan, Bari, and Rossano in 1518. She brought with her to Cracow (which was then the capital of Poland) a large entourage of courtiers, ladies-in-waiting, poets and artists, and thus introduced new trends in fashion, cuisine, and manners to the Polish court.

In particular, she and her women were criticized for behaving in ways that Polish women did not – they talked and laughed at the banqueting tables, rather than being quiet and demure. It was a significant clash of cultures between a (relative) freedom women enjoyed in Italy at that time and the more conservative (if not misogynistic) attitudes towards women in the Polish-Lithuanian commonwealth. At first, it was considered scandalous, but over time those attitudes began to change to a degree.

Silent Water eBook Cover LargeMy new mystery novel Silent Water (now available on pre-order) uses that clash of cultures as its historical background. It is set at the court of Zygmunt the Old and Bona in Cracow in the year 1519 and 1520.

My hope is that it will open the field to more historical novels set in Eastern Europe. We are living in a time when there is a justifiable push for stories and voices that are non-Western, hence the proliferation of historical fiction set in China, Japan, India, Africa, and other places. But we should not let the vast and culturally significant area between Western Europe and Russia fall by the wayside in the process.

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10 thoughts on “Is There Room for Eastern European Historical Fiction?

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  1. Good blog. I feel the same. Tudor & Georgian stories come out daily, but 17th century England is not a popular era, even as it had all the intrigue, backstabbing and wars as any era/country. Russian history stories are on the rise tho, which I applaud.

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  2. I agree with this wholeheartedly as well! My Ukrainian background has already filtered into my work and plan on continuing down that path with future projects. Congrats on your new book!

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  3. Thank you for leading the way for authors and readers of historical fiction who crave something other than British or French culture. Hopefully, we will see an explosion of a new sub-genre of eastern European books. There are a ton of books published in Germany, but no publishers are interested in translating into English. The market is ripe!

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  4. As an Eastern European writer, I would say that this has to do with language. Most of American and British writers don’t come from Eastern Europe so why should they write about it? It’s very hard to write “accurately” about a place that you don’t know. As a Czecho-slovak I attest that there is plenty historical fiction written by Czecho-slovak authors about our rich history. What bothers me, however, is the treatment of Eastern Europe by some western HF writers as this wild lawless area, or some exotic place. I have even seen agents stating they don’t want any HF set in medieval Europe as if the market was over-saturated with stories about Medieval Hungary…. I am glad to see that there are English speaking people who are interested in stories set in Eastern Europe, since I am writing one, too.

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    1. Hi Adriana- Thank you for commenting. I largely agree with you. However, there is at least one American writer (meaning without personal background in Eastern Europe) who writes well about the region – Elizabeth Kostova (she’s married to a Bulgarian, I believe, hence the last name). In any case, it’s good to meet another EE writer. I’m from Poland originally. I followed you on Twitter.

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  5. Interesting comments. I agree that much more could be made of E. Europe’s rich history but I think there must always be a connection for English readers. Thats where the market is. My Kohut trilogy (The Dragontail Buttonhole, Cafe Budapest and Pavel’s War) is WW2 fiction based on a true Czechoslovak family’s escape from Prague across Hungary, Germany France to Britain. The family imports and sells high end British woolens in Prague which is the link between cultures. Peter Curtis.

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