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13 Sweeping Family Sagas

From heartwarming epic stories of devotion to multigenerational dramas of heartbreak and betrayal.

Brandon Miller

The Latecomer

By Jean Hanff Korelitz

In The Latecomer, best-selling author Jean Hanff Korelitz delivers a richly layered portrait of a family whose lives are upended by the surprise arrival of a fourth child. At the center of the story are the Oppenheimers, a wealthy New York City clan led by parents Salo and Johanna. Years ago, in the early days of IVF, Johanna gave birth to triplets: Harrison, Lewyn, and Sally. Despite their extraordinary origins, the triplets are not particularly close; indeed, they’re more than happy to go their separate ways when they come of age and depart for college. That’s when Johanna decides to add a fourth child — the latecomer — to the mix, challenging the Oppenheimers’ already fragile family dynamic and forcing the family to confront their past traumas and buried emotions. “An ingenious family epic” (Oprah Daily) that’s filled with emotional twists, Korelitz’s latest makes the perfect next read for fans of moving family narratives.

 

Related: An Interview with Jean Hanff Korelitz on Her New Book The Latecomer

Ask Again, Yes

By Mary Beth Keane

Mary Beth Keane’s bestselling Ask Again, Yes is a stunning family saga about trauma and the healing power of forgiveness. The novel centers on two families, the Stanhopes and the Gleesons, who live next door to each other in the suburbs of New York City. As the families move through life together (growing closer, drifting apart), their children develop a deep friendship that eventually blossoms into love — and sets the stage for a startling night where the simmering resentments of the past finally come to a boil. Keane’s novel follows the Gleesons and Stanhopes over the course of 30 years, exploring the bonds they share and the tests of loyalty that threaten to drive them apart.

Caramelo

By Sandra Cisneros

From Sandra Cisnero, the PEN Award–winning author of The House on Mango Street, comes this extraordinary family saga. Caramelo introduces us to the Reyeses, a multigenerational Mexican American family who travel to Mexico City for their annual get-together. As the Reyes aunts, uncles, siblings, and second cousins settle in, the competing family stories begin to unfurl — some truthful, others enriched and exaggerated across the years. Set in a variety of eras and locales, from history-rich Mexico City to roaring twenties Chicago and present-day San Antonio, this lively novel crackles with fun family tales that explore notions of homeland and family legacy.

White Teeth

By Zadie Smith

In White Teeth, Zadie Smith’s best-selling debut novel, two wartime friends take center stage. The book follows Archie Jones and Samad Iqbal, who met while serving on a tank crew in the waning days of WWII. Archie is on his second marriage, this one to Clara Bowden, a Jamaican woman half his age. Samad, meanwhile, has entered into a later-in-life arranged marriage that produces two sons with wildly different personalities. Together, the lifelong pals navigate postwar living, the many challenges of family life, and a radically changing English landscape.

Pachinko

By Min Jin Lee

We love Pachinko, Min Jin Lee’s 2017 National Book Award finalist novel. The celebrated saga traces four generations of a Korean immigrant family. Teenage Sunja, a fisherman’s daughter in the early 1900s, becomes romantically involved with a wealthy businessman. But when she discovers that the man is married and that she’s pregnant with his child, Sunja refuses to be his mistress and instead marries a sickly minister on his way to Japan. Her choices reverberate across the years and through multiple generations of her family in this sweeping family drama about love, devotion, desire, and sacrifice.

The House of the Spirits

By Isabel Allende

In her acclaimed debut, Isabel Allende delivers an evocative family saga set against a turbulent political backdrop. The House of the Spirits follows three generations of the Trueba family in an unnamed Latin American country, capturing the many passions, secrets, and triumphs they share as they navigate life in a volatile land. When a mounting crisis pits the family’s dictatorial patriarch against his revolutionary-minded granddaughter, the past and present collide and the Truebas’ delicate family dynamic will be tested.

Boy, Snow, Bird

By Helen Oyeyemi

In Boy, Snow, Bird, Helen Oyeyemi puts an enchanting spin on the Snow White fairy tale. The novel centers on Boy Novak, who leaves behind New York in the winter of 1953 and makes her way to a small town in Massachusetts in search of new beginnings. There she marries a widower named Arturo Whitman and inherits a stepdaughter, named Snow. Not long after that, Boy has a daughter of her own, Bird, whose dark complexion reveals that the Whitmans are light-skinned African Americans who have been passing as white since moving up from the South. As the family reckons with the revelation, they also begin to see one another in a new light and together contend with the bewitching power of the mirror.

The Thorn Birds

By Colleen McCullough

Colleen McCullough’s The Thorn Birds was first published in 1979, yet it resonates just as strongly today. The classic novel tracks the hopes and struggles of three generations of the Cleary rancher family in the unforgiving Australian outback. McCullough crafts a spectacular, big-picture family saga of heartbreak and triumph in her work, interlaced with an intimate portrait of forbidden love between Meggie Cleary, the family’s only daughter, and a troubled priest named Father Ralph de Bricassart.

Cutting for Stone

By Abraham Verghese

Cutting for Stone, Abraham Verghese’s acclaimed debut work of fiction, tells the epic story of twin brothers Marion and Shiva Stone. The siblings are born of a secret romance between an Indian Carmelite nun and a British surgeon, and they are left orphaned after their mother dies during childbirth and their father disappears. So begins the emotional saga of the twins, a tale of romance and betrayal, medicine and miracle, and a search for belonging.

Homegoing

By Yaa Gyasi

Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing is a powerful family saga about two half sisters who live dramatically different lives. Sisters Effia and Esi are born in two separate villages in 18th-century Ghana. While Effia is married off to an English slaver and lives in Cape Coast Castle, Esi is kidnapped from her village and imprisoned in the castle’s dungeon, where she will soon be sold in the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Gyasi’s narrative then follows the diverging paths of the sisters and their descendants over the course of 300 years: Esi as she’s forced into slavery and strives to carve out a new life for her family in America, Effia as she and her descendants remain in Ghana and grapple with the impact of British colonial rule.

Gilead

By Marilynne Robinson

Marilynne Robinson’s novel Gilead is about as good as it gets when it comes to sweeping family saga books; indeed, the author won a Pulitzer Prize and National Book Critics Circle Award for her work. The celebrated narrative explores the relationship between succeeding generations of fathers and sons, and the struggles they face as they move through their lives. It begins in 1956, when a dying Reverend John Ames crafts a letter to his son. In the letter, Reverend Ames pieces together his family history and examines the complex bond shared between his pacifist father and fiery grandfather, a fervent man who served as a chaplain in the Union Army during the Civil War.

Salt Houses

By Hala Alyan

Hala Alyan’s award-winning Salt Houses is a gorgeously rendered familial drama that follows three generations of a Palestinian family, exploring themes of dislocation, struggle, and generational trauma. The novel opens on the eve of Alia’s wedding. Alia’s mother, Salma, reads her daughter’s future in her coffee dregs, where she sees a life defined by instability and great travel and luck. Not wanting to cast a shadow upon her daughter’s wedding day, Salma keeps what she sees to herself. Soon, however, her prediction comes true, when the family is displaced by the Six-Day War of 1967.

The Dutch House

By Ann Patchett

Ann Patchett’s The Dutch House, which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, is a charming family saga book that chronicles the triumphs and struggles of the Conroy family over the course of five decades. The novel starts at the end of WWII, when family patriarch Cyril Conroy leverages a single investment into a prosperous real estate business. Flush with cash, Cyril purchases the Dutch House, an extravagant estate outside of Philadelphia. The acquisition cements his family’s status and proves they’ve escaped the life of poverty they once endured. Yet it also sets into motion a series of events that will divide the Conroy clan for years to come.

 

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