Why write Historical fiction?
Why write Historical fiction? Why choose to write about the past, when there is so much to write about concerning the present, and the future is a constantly open invitation to be bold and imaginative?
Well, every story told is a story of the past. Once the moment's gone, it becomes history and sometimes you just need to take a few steps back to see the full picture-just like an Impressionist painting. The past has been largely demonized in our times and that can only speak of its great power. To quote Kierkegaard, "Life can only be understood backwards", even though it must be lived forwards, but in recent decades we have been more eager to meet the living forwards condition than look back and try to understand. Because understanding takes effort, and we have grown more and more accustomed to the comfort zone of modern life's amenities. In this light, Historical fiction does not only make us aware of the fact that historical events have an impact on the way things are today, it is a training exercise in gaining the endurance, flexibility, and strength required for the enormous comprehension challenge.
Yes, but why not write something modern, something closer to the concerns of your contemporaries?
What I would ask is: have people's concerns really changed that much? When did people stop caring about survival, about loving and being loved, about being accepted for who they are, or about making the wrong choices, then feeling entrapped in the vicious circle those choices create? When has making a choice stopped being one of the hardest things a person must do, especially considering matters of the heart? How often have we ourselves, in retrospect, wished we hadn't invested so much in the wrong person, simultaneously wondering what makes this person wrong for us when he/she is so right for everyone else?
Honestly, I'm sure these are issues people have been addressing for centuries, so the question here is simply about the set. Why do some people like blue while others like red? Why do they prefer mountain vacations to the sun and sea? And how come some will delight in a hair-raising psychological thriller at the movies, while others would rather cry their eyes out watching a family drama?
I'm not saying it's only a matter of taste. Imagine you are a captain on a ship navigating through calm waters and cloudless skies. Who will contest you can steer, well, unless, of course, you run the ship aground. But in a storm? Every decision you make counts, every mistake can be fatal.
This is why wartime is such a fruitful ground for fiction. It is also a mysterious place to explore. It's a crash test for everything we take for granted.
World War 2 is the perfect place to start this illuminating journey. It's close enough to be interesting, but already so far away as to allow a degree of objectivity. Now that enough time has passed for even classified documents to see the light, now is the time to take a deeper look, start considering and reconsidering the things we knew to be this or that way, and be a little less absolute in our convictions and certainties. What a lesson for the present and future!