Making History: Six Books Embracing the 1970s ‹ Literary Hub

It’s almost shocking to believe that what was once the electrical literature of the 1970s has now become historical fiction. Fifty years ago, it’s no longer what we once thought of as groundbreaking, despite the era of women’s rights, gay rights, Watergate, the Vietnam War, and whistleblowers.

Flash forward to today, and books set in the 1970s still recall dramatic stories in American and world history that reverberate in powerful ways. All fiction arises from human events, whether real or imagined, but historical fiction pays more attention to the facts that create those events in terms of time, setting, and character. There is an accountability that calls on authors to come up with fictitious aspects around a central truth.

My selection of six defining books set in the 1970s era — now considered historical fiction — traverses continents and heritage, each examining how characters rise to face challenges and conflict as they navigate cultural and other differences. confront and explore challenges inherent in those times, many of which, with their central truths, continue to resonate with me when I revisit them.

daisy jones and the six

Taylor Jenkins Reid, Daisy Jones and the Six
(Ballantine Books)

An immersion into the 70s Los Angeles rock and roll scene, Daisy Jones and the Six contains the unlikely combination of the up-and-coming, beautiful, raw vocalist Daisy Jones and Billy Dunne, lead guitarist of the band The Six. Individually they experiment with drugs, sex and rock and roll. But when a manager suggests Billy and Daisy do a duet on the Six’s second album, the song “Honeycomb” becomes an instant hit and Daisy is invited to join the band. “That’s what I’ve always loved about music,” Daisy says. “Not the sounds or the crowds or the good times, but the words – the emotions and the stories, the truth – that you can just pour out of your mouth. Music can to digYou know?” While this novel sometimes borders on familiar stereotypes, it captures the exuberance of a unique moment in our culture and creates a memorable, stark account of the rise of this fictional band.

under the gaze of the lion

Maaza Mengiste, Under the gaze of the lion
(W. W. Norton)

It is set in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in 1974, on the eve of the revolution to oust Emperor Haile Selassie Mengiste’s debut novel tells the story of what happened from multiple points of view. The novel begins in an operating room at a hospital, where a boy who was shot during the protest is undergoing surgery for a gunshot wound. Hailu, the doctor who operates on him, has a complicated story of his own. His wife, Selam, is in the building’s ICU with congestive heart failure and is refusing treatment. His two adult sons, Dawit and Yonas, respond to the political climate in dramatically different ways: one as a pacifist, the other as an activist. The unrest in the city intensifies as famine escalates, torture becomes routine and bodies rot in the streets.

When Hailu is ordered to treat a woman who has been tortured so violently that he knows she would not survive further interrogation, he gives her cyanide. After being thrown in jail and tortured for helping her commit suicide, his sons join forces and spring into action. Mengiste’s unraveling of this story is deep and vivid and I relied on her voice all the time to reveal many truths. Despite the violence and disruption and crimes against humanity, the narration is seamless and powerful.

go after cacciato

Tim O’Brien, Going after Cacciato
(Broadway books)

At the same time that the reality of Daisy Jones and Billy Dunne was vividly compelling in the context of the rock and roll scene elsewhere in the world, the Vietnam War had been in conflict from 1955 to the fall of Saigon in 1975. . Veteran Tim O’Brien’s novel, which won the National Book Award in 1979, describes a nonlinear path on the part of Paul Berlin, who determined that being a soldier in Vietnam for standard conscription entails constant walking, and if someone like you were to put all the walking in a straight line, you’d end up in Paris, which is where AWOL Private Cacciato goes, and begin to follow Berlin.

The novel opens with an enchanting litany of the dead: “It was a bad time. Billy Boy Watkins was dead, and so was Frenchie Tucker. Billy Boy had died of terror, terrified on the battlefield, and Frenchie Tucker had been shot through the nose. Bernie Lynn and Lieutenant Sidney Martin had died in tunnels. Pederson was dead and Rudy Chassler was dead. Buff was dead, Ready Mix was dead… The rain-fed fungus that grew in the men’s boots and socks and their socks rotted, and their feet turned white and soft so their skin could be scraped off with a fingernail…” For people who lived in Vietnam and could never have imagined the cruel and terrifying reality of participating in this war, O’Brien has created a necessary cauldron of reality that evokes suffering and alienation that last a lifetime.

flamethrowers kushner

Rachel Kushner, The flamethrowers

Enter the The world of 1970s conceptual art, motorcycle racing, upper-class Italy and the rampant kidnapping and terrorism that came with it. Reno, a young Nevada artist with a history of skiing and dirt bike racing, moves to New York City’s Little Italy to try to make it in the art world. She becomes involved with Sandro, an elderly performer and heir to a family motorcycle and fortune whose father, Valera, was a former World War I member of the Arditi, famous for attacking the enemy with flamethrowers. Are artists, as Valera suggests, “those who are useless for anything else?” Or is the answer what Sandro believes: “Making art was actually about the problem of the soul, of losing it. It was a technique of inhabiting the world. Not to dissolve into it.” Kushner’s vibrant talent for choreographing conflict, her take on the idea of ​​’speed’ in its various forms, and her quest to understand what makes art and what an artist makes make this an energetic read.

run in the family

Michael Ondaatje, Running in the family

The language in these fictional memoirs is composed of a kind of transcendent poetry. Born in Ceylon (now called Sri Lanka), Ondaatje moved to Britain at age 11 and then spent much of his life in Canada. In the late 1970s, he returned to Sri Lanka to discover the mythology of his Dutch-Ceylonese family and to look for evidence of his ancestors.

He begins: “Where it all started was the clear bone of an idea I could barely hold onto. I slept at a friend’s house. I saw my father, chaotic, surrounded by dogs, and they were all screaming and barking out into the tropical landscape.” Ondaatje traveled the railroads his family had taken, went to the houses, race tracks and harbors, and stood in the monsoon – where he heard they had been. “I wanted to hit them with words,” he writes. He looks for circles around the past, although he can never clearly touch it. This book inspires me every time I read it, or read parts of it, which can be appreciated individually or linearly.

Column McCannLet the big world spin
(Any house)

Several threads intersect in this non-linear novel, which won the National Book Award in 2009. The story is set against the background of the famous acrobat Philippe Petit’s walk in August 1974 on a tightrope between the Twin Towers, and the author returns to this event regularly throughout the book. About Petit, McCann says, “He was touching purity. † † † He was simultaneously in and out of his body, surrendering to what it meant to belong to the sky.” Then there is a shift in time and place to Ireland to meet Corrigan, a young monk, and his brother Ciaran, who soon find themselves in the South Bronx in the 1970s in the midst of a run-down New York City.

While Corrigan serves prostitutes who gather under the highway and Ciaran tends the bar at an Irish pub in Queen, a group of mothers gather in an uptown apartment to mourn their sons who died in Vietnam, a thirty-eight-year-old grandmother turns to face the crazy next to her daughter, and an artist witnesses a hit-and-run. These seemingly disparate voices come together to form a kaleidoscopic effect, creating a simultaneous image of the city with its hopes, dreams and traumas. Some of the beauty of the book is evoked with continuous images of the sky, the earth and McCann’s attention to the risk, elegance and courage of the tightrope walker.

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