Has November been a strange month for anyone else? It has felt at once like it’s gone by in the blink of an eye and like the longest month ever. Anyway, here we are in the 4th week of Nonfiction November, hosted by Christopher @ Plucked From the Stacks.
This week we’re focusing on all the great nonfiction books that almost don’t seem real. A sports biography involving overcoming massive obstacles, a profile on a bizarre scam, a look into the natural wonders in our world—basically, if it makes your jaw drop, you can highlight it for this week’s topic.
I think this kind of nonfiction, that almost doesn’t seem real, is such great gateway nonfiction for those who think they only like fiction. So let’s see if we can’t convert some more fiction readers over to the nonfiction side!
A Woman Of No Importance: The Untold Story of the American Spy Who Helped Win WWII by Sonia Purnell. I’ve actually just finished this. This is honestly a completely bananas story of an American woman with a disability (she was missing part of one leg) who worked to organize the Resistance in France. Virginia Hall supplied information to the Allies to help them win the war, arranged for French citizens to receive food, money, medicine, and arms to help the fight on the ground, and she planned guerilla tactics like blowing up bridges and messing with German supply lines to frustrate the enemy before Allied forces arrived back in Western Europe. Ultimately she was secretly awarded the Croix de Guerre, a French military honour, but her return to life after the war was an endless frustration of having to prove herself to the men who were threatened by her experience and brilliance. I’m just waiting for the miniseries.
In Order to Live: A North Korean Girl’s Journey to Freedom by Yeonmi Park. There aren’t a lot of books about what life is like for North Koreans or even what life is like for those who manage to get out. Yeonmi Park’s story includes what it was like growing up in North Korea, the love for their leader, the willingness of anyone to turn on anyone else, the hunger, the lengths people would go to for food. And then Yeonmi, her mother and her sister manage to get out. Her sister goes first and it is many years before they are reunited. Yeonmi goes with her mother, brought over the border by human traffickers, and so begins their life of being non-people. They have no official documentation in China so they are at the mercy of those who would sell them. This is a harrowing account from a corner of the world we just don’t get access to and it’s wild to think that any one thing happened, let alone all of them.
Lady in Waiting: My Extraordinary Life in the Shadow of the Crown by Anne Glenconner. Here’s a more gentle read for those of you not into spies or life and death border crossings. Anne Glenconner, was lady-in-waiting to Princess Margaret until her death in 2002 and had a front row seat to a lot of history in The Family. She was part of the Queen’s coronation in 1953. She and her husband were also behind what became a bit of an infamous resort, Mustique. She was married to Lord Glenconner for 54 years – on their honeymoon in Paris, he brought her to watch other people having sex (watch her tell the story on Graham Norton) and when he died he left everything to a former servant – and two of their sons died and a third was nursed back to health by Lady Glenconner after a terrible motorcycle accident. Queens, Princesses, badly behaved husbands, Mustique, celebrities like Mick Jagger – Anne Glenconner tells it all.
So there you have my picks. Hopefully one of these catches your attention that might not have otherwise shown up on your radar!
Make sure you visit Plucked From the Stacks to link up with more hard to believe nonfiction!
10 thoughts on “Nonfiction November 2021 (Week4): Stranger Than Fiction”
I never thought about it like that, but I think you are right: this sort of nonfiction can bring fiction-only readers to the nonfiction table.
I went through a phase of North Korean escapee memoirs and seriously, they are so harrowing but so fascinating! My favorite was A River in Darkness, whose author managed to finally escape after his family RETURNED to North Korea from living in Japan. Apparently there was a tricksy propaganda campaign to recruit returnees without them knowing how horrible things were. The Girl With Seven Names is really good too!
I actually have a copy of In Order to Live but I hesitated on reading it because there was some criticism of it awhile back, namely questions around the veracity of parts of it, and I think at least some of it was demonstrably false. She eventually responded and blamed some of it on a language barrier and excused other inaccuracies by saying she was checking her memories against others’ to verify them, which seemed a bit fishy to me because shouldn’t that be done before publishing a book? It’s so tough with something like this because I don’t doubt she’s been through something absolutely awful and should tell her story, and events in North Korea are obviously going to be really hard to verify.
And I think we already discussed A Woman of No Importance…SO good!!!
Oh I hadn’t heard that about In Order to Live! Her story is bonkers so maybe it’s a good thing the whole thing isn’t true. No one needs to live through so much. But I’ve only recently learned that there is no requirement to fact check anything nonfiction before publication which makes me question so much.
I’ll have to look those other two up – seven names was definitely on my radar but always forget about it when I’m actually in a library or bookstore.
I’ve learned the same, that fact checking is basically on the author and at their own expense, which just…seems like the worst possible idea and highly unethical.
Right????? It’s completely mind-blowing!
Lady in Waiting sounds ridiculously good! I don’t read a lot of royalty related things but this sounds fascinating.
It was so good! She shares *everything* and she honestly had a wild life. Probably not what she envisioned when she was young!
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I love what you wrote at the beginning, and it’s something I really hadn’t considered. So many people suggest they aren’t really nonfiction readers. But put one of these in front of them? I’d be surprised if they weren’t convert.
In Order to Live sounds fascinating. Not that long ago, I read a ton of books related to North Korea, but this one escaped my attention. Might have to remedy that!
Ooh, what great picks! I’ve only read A Woman of No Importance and it’s perfect for this topic. When reading about her escape over the mountains, it really did feel like a scene someone made up for a movie!