In honor of the Roaring ’20s, let’s take a look back at what was happening one hundred years ago.
- Calvin Coolidge was President of the United States
- King Tut’s tomb was opened
- Insulin was produced as a treatment for diabetes
- Time magazine was launched
And books were being borrowed, discussed, and recommended. In 2023 we are still enjoying recently published books and old favorites. In case you’d like to celebrate in centennial style, here are a few recommendations for books set in the 1920s and published in the 1920s.
Books Set in the 1920s:
A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles
In 1922, Count Alexander Rostov is deemed an unrepentant aristocrat by a Bolshevik tribunal, and is sentenced to house arrest in the Metropol, a grand hotel across the street from the Kremlin. Rostov, an indomitable man of erudition and wit, has never worked a day in his life, and must now live in an attic room while some of the most tumultuous decades in Russian history are unfolding outside the hotel’s doors. Unexpectedly, his reduced circumstances provide him entry into a much larger world of emotional discovery.
Circling the Sun by Paula McLain
Brought to Kenya from England by pioneering parents dreaming of a new life on an African farm, Beryl is raised unconventionally, developing a fierce will and a love of all things wild. But after everything she knows and trusts dissolves, headstrong young Beryl is flung into a string of disastrous relationships, then becomes caught up in a passionate love triangle with the irresistible safari hunter Denys Finch Hatton and the writer Baroness Karen Blixen.
The Mercy of Thin Air by Ronlyn Domingue
In 1920s New Orleans, Raziela Nolan is in the throes of a magnificent love affair when she dies in a tragic accident. She narrates the story of her lost love, as well as the relationship of the couple whose house she haunts more than 75 years later. The couple’s trials compel Razi to slowly unravel the mystery of what happened to her first and only love, and to confront a long-hidden secret.
The Widows of Malabar Hill by Sujata Massey
Bombay, 1921: Perveen Mistry, the daughter of a respected Zoroastrian family, has just joined her father’s law firm, becoming one of the first female lawyers in India. Armed with a law degree from Oxford, Perveen also has a tragic personal history that makes her especially devoted to championing and protecting women’s legal rights. Inspired in part by a real woman who made history by becoming India’s first female lawyer, The Widows of Malabar Hill is a richly wrought story of multicultural 1920s Bombay as well as the debut of a sharp and promising new sleuth, Perveen Mistry.
The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty
Only a few years before becoming a famous silent-film star and an icon of her generation, a fifteen-year-old Louise Brooks leaves Wichita, Kansas, to study with the prestigious Denishawn School of Dancing in New York. Much to her annoyance, she is accompanied by a thirty-six-year-old chaperone, who is neither mother nor friend. Cora Carlisle, a complicated but traditional woman with her own reasons for making the trip, has no idea what she’s in for. Young Louise, already stunningly beautiful and sporting her famous black bob with blunt bangs, is known for her arrogance and her lack of respect for convention. Ultimately, the five weeks they spend together will transform their lives forever.
Books Released in the 1920s:
Cane by Jean Toomer
Cane is a collection of short stories, poems, and dramas, written by Harlem Renaissance author Jean Toomer in 1923. The stories focus around African-American culture in both the North and the South during times when racism and Jim Crow laws still abounded. Vignettes of the lives of various African-American characters tell what it was like to live both in the rural areas of Georgia and the urban streets of the northern cities.
To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
Observed across the years at their vacation house facing the gales of the North Atlantic, Mrs. Ramsay and her family seek to recapture meaning from the flux of things and the passage of time. Though it is the death of Mrs. Ramsay on which the novel turns, her presence pervades every page in a poetic evocation of loss and memory that is also a celebration of domestic life and its most intimate details. Virginia Woolf’s great book enacts a powerful allegory of the creative consciousness and its momentary triumphs over fleeting material life.
The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
The story follows the flamboyant Brett and the hapless Jake as they journey from the wild nightlife of 1920s Paris to the brutal bullfighting rings of Spain with a motley group of expatriates. It is an age of moral bankruptcy, spiritual dissolution, unrealized love, and vanishing illusions.
Passing by Nella Larsen
Light-skinned Clare Kendry married a racist white man unaware of her African American heritage after deciding to ‘pass’ as a white woman. Clare’s childhood friend, Irene Redfield, just as light-skinned, chose to remain within the African American community, and is both allured and repelled by Clare’s racial masquerade. Clare’s own interest in Irene turns into a homoerotic longing for the identity she abandoned and can never regain, and forces her to grapple with her decisions in a way that is both tragic and telling.
The Professor’s House by Willa Cather
Professor Godfrey St. Peter is a man in his fifties who has devoted his life to his work, his wife, his garden, and his daughters, and achieved success with all of them. But when St. Peter is called on to move to a new, more comfortable house, something in him rebels. And although at first that rebellion consists of nothing more than mild resistance to his family’s wishes, it imperceptibly comes to encompass the entire order of his life.