The Book of Epochs – Historical fiction in the backdrop of the American Civil War

Nov 6, 2022

Historical fiction panders to the readers that have a weakness for time-travel, and ‘The Book of Epochs’ certainly satisfies by adding on layers of mystery, murder and intrigue.

Dianne Fernando is a young author who has a knack for writing historical fiction that is only equalled by her love for the genre. In the world she has created, she explores the vast chasm between the uber affluent and the lower class – and may I dare say, American Negro class – the lives they lead, their eagerness for betterment of selves and the importance of education in a society that deems the ‘blacks’ as no better than the labourers that they most often are.

It is a tale of ages – of epochs – of a young negro girls’ life. A girl who is eager to learn, to read, to educate herself and, one day, maybe even become an author, and share her stories with the world. Welcome to the world of young Carol Bennister, a young lass from the coal mining colonies of Kentucky

Our protagonist work in the coal mines in Moorehead, Kentucky in the early nineteenth century, with a burning desire to devour as many books as she could possibly lay her hands on, she doesn’t steal nourishment for her body, but rather nourishment for her mind, by being a book thief!

Carol’s escapades see her venture into the forbidden library of Mr. Willard’s mansion. To be quite fair, Carol did ask her mother time and again for permission to borrow a book or two to read and carefully replace, but the answer was always an adamant ‘No!’ so who could blame poor Carol for her daring plan to steal one for herself?

Her escapade sets of a series of events that sets up an unexpected opportunity, a friendship that spans race and status and the chance for young Carol to become the person that she always dreamed of becoming.

Set in the nineteenth century, on the onset of the American Civil War, young miss Bennister’s fate rips her away from her family to a wonderful new life in Pittsburgh… but evil lurks just behind the façade – an evil that threatens her very life.

The author, Dianne Fernando, weaves a tale of hope that gets you gunning for the young protagonist, but snatches this hope away in the most horrifying crimes that could befall her. Settled in the lap of luxury with her new found friend and sponsor, little does she know that her life and innocence are threatened from within the very walls she has come to call her new home. Amidst the fine food and finer clothes, the socializing and grand balls, there is a malevolent figure that can take away everything that she has gained in the snap of a finger.

The author was inspired to start penning her own novel after watching the 2019 movie, ‘Little Women’, based on the books of the same name written by Louisa May Alcott. She fell in love with the main character, Josephine March, and the setting against which the story was placed, inspiring her to use that same background to base her own story. Dianne also decided to weave into her story the crucial fight between proponents of slavery and abolitionists.

They say when you know your story, it doesn’t take much effort to tell, and that is proven by Dianne, who wrote her novel in the incredibly short span of only three months. Dianne says it took her two to three days to get to that “aha!” moment, and would write from whatever chapter that she had a clear view of, then built it up and flesh it out the story from there.

The clean, straightforward writing delivers an exciting, page-turning plot, filled with fascinating history. Historical fiction is not a genre one can enter lightly and for an author so young, it is indeed impressive in the amount of research necessary about the life and times and environment of the American Civil War.

The author is currently studying at the University of Moratuwa and was just twenty years of age when she published “The Book of Epochs”. Her book went on to be nominated for the Best Youth Novel at the State Literary Awards in 2021.

Dianne is also a musician and singer and plays the piano as well as the guitar, and she also writes stories and poetry, loves gardening and spending time with nature. She is a god-fearing Roman Catholic who is a past pupil of the Convent of Our Lady of Victories in Moratuwa. She is currently following her B.Sc. in Facilities Management with the University of Moratuwa.

Her book is available at most bookshops including The Jam Fruit Tree Bookshop in Colombo.

by Jeremy Muller
Courtesy: Sunday Observer, 06 Nov 2022