A trio of books that turn deep research into dazzling stories.
Writing on subjects from the Kennedys to the Clintons, from Princess Diana to William S. Paley, Sally Bedell Smith’s teases out the human drama behind the headlines and history books. Her new biography, Elizabeth the Queen mines extensive interviews and never-before-seen documents to chronicle the life of Queen Elizabeth II, a woman who, despite reigning for almost sixty years, remains largely mysterious to the commonwealth, masked by the veil of royal decorum. This week, Smith points us to three works that showcase “the power of research in fiction and nonfiction.”
By Edmund de Waal
“In this highly original memoir, Edmund de Waal uses the remarkable survival of an ancestor’s collection of carved ivory and wood netsuke to explore the lives of family members through the objects they collected. An artist by profession, de Waal shifts from meditative musings on the forms of French and Japanese art to terrifying scenes of Nazi thugs looting his family’s palatial Viennese home. His tone is restrained, but his passion for history and his descriptive powers make reading this book an intensely visual and even tactile experience.”
By Hilary Mantel
“Hilary Mantel audaciously and convincingly re-imagines some of the most indelible characters of English history: Thomas Cromwell, Henry VIII, Anne Boleyn, Thomas More, and Cardinal Wolsey. Told through the eyes of Cromwell, her novel transforms a notorious character into a man of sympathetic dimensions — smart and cunning but also loving and kind. Mantel immersed herself in Tudor history, including the letters of Cromwell and More, and her expertise enriches the physical details, nuances of character, gradations of status, and maneuvers of power.”
By Ann Patchett
“Dr. Marina Singh, a research scientist for a Midwestern pharmaceutical firm, journeys into the Brazilian rain forest on a complicated quest: to find a doctor obsessed with developing a miracle drug, and to solve the mystery of a colleague’s death. It is also a voyage of self discovery for Singh, who confronts the demons of her past and finds within herself surprising strength. Ann Patchett creates characters as vivid as the worlds they inhabit — from the bleakness of Minnesota’s wintry landscape to the suffocating heat and menace of the Amazonian jungle. Underlying this absorbing novel is Patchett’s impressive grasp of medicine, botany, ornithology, and anthropology, which heightens the reader’s ‘state of wonder.’”