Speaking of Amitava, we’ve now put up on PEN.org a great conversation between him and Ilija Trojanow, a brilliant writer and publisher who writes in German but who has lived all over. We’ve also put up a bit of Ilija’s novel about Richard Burton (pictured left) called The Collector of Worlds and newly translated by Will Hobson.
Ilija is uncommonly thoughtful in the way he approaches the lives he imagines, but that effort—giving fictional life to historical figures—seems to be on the rise. We have other examples in PEN America 8: Rodrigo Fresán depicting J.M. Barrie, for instance (with cameos by Bob Dylan and others); Italian guerilla novelists “Wu Ming” dreaming up intrigue in Rome in the 1950s (the central character in the piece we included is Cary Grant, shortly to become a spy).
No doubt our readers know of many other recent examples: Russell Banks, David Leavitt, Katharine Weber, Arthur Japin, Janna Levin, Edmund White—the list is long and distinguished. The alternate histories published recently by Philip Roth and Michael Chabon also warrant mentioning.
So is this a burgeoning phenomenon? Has historical fiction really become a larger part of the literary landscape over the last few years? And if so, why?
(See also: "Inventing the Past.")