March 23, 2024

ANCESTRY: A NOVEL by Simon Mawer

Publication Date: October 25, 2022

Print Length: 432 pages

Previous Author Publications:

  • Chimera (1989)
  • Mendel’s Dwarf (1997)
  • The Glass Room (2009)
  • Trapeze (2012)
  • Tightrope (2015)
  • Prague Spring (2018)


In this fictionalized account, Simon Mawer explores the life and times of his relatives who lived in the 19th century. By blending family narratives that have been passed down with historical research into the places where his family lived, Mawer brings his great-great grandparents to life.

Through a detailed search of available public records, Mawer traces the life trajectories followed by his paternal and maternal ancestors. Relatives on both sides of his family struggled with loss and hardship. Mawer’s maternal great-great grandfather, Abraham Block, lost his life as a seaman while his paternal great-great grandfather, George Mawer, was a British soldier who died in Crimea. But the real heroes of his story are the widows who persevered after losing their husbands as they worked to support their children while keeping their families together.


Simon Mawer Interview, The Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction. May 25, 2023.

Myerson, Jonathan, “Ancestry: A Novel by Simon Mawer review – one for all the family.” The Guardian, August 1, 2022.

Hagen, W.M., “Ancestry: A Novel” by Simon Mawer, World Literature Today, Volume 97, No. 4, July-August 2023: 78-79.

Green, Miranda. “Ancestry by Simon Mawer – out of the ordinary.” Financial Times, July 15, 2022.



  • To recreate his family’s past, Mawer relied on official documents and narrative accounts. How effectively was he able to use public records to recreate the lives his relatives once lived during the 19th century?

  • What does Mawer’s narrative reveal about the challenges men and particularly women faced in England during the 1800s?

  • Mawer has categorized his book as a novel. Did he achieve the right blend between fact and fiction? Have his fictionalized accounts helped him to portray his relatives as the people they once were?

  • Mawer starts his project by stating we carry our past within us. What traces of our ancestral past can we find in the present?

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