Shawna Yang Ryan’s critically acclaimed novel Green Island is set in twentieth century Taiwan, a period during which the nation was undergoing enormous change. A stunning story of love and betrayal, Green Island is also a multi-generational family epic that spans six decades and two continents, and that got us thinking about similarly sprawling sagas that would be perfect for your reading group. Keep reading to learn more about these incredible family chronicles from authors like Jhumpa Lahiri and Abraham Verghese.
Green Island by Shawna Yang Ryan
“Heartbreaking. . . . Told in luscious prose, Green Island teaches readers about the humanity of mankind, the brutality of political power and unrest, and why some secrets are never told.” —The Boston Globe
Taipei, February 28, 1947: As an uprising rocks Taiwan, a young doctor is taken from his newborn daughter by Chinese Nationalists on charges of speaking out against the government. Although he eventually returns to his family, his arrival is marked by alienation from his loved ones and paranoia among his community. Years later, this troubled past follows his youngest daughter to America, where, as a mother and a wife, she too is forced to decide between what is right and what might save her family—the same choice she witnessed her father make many years before.
Based in part on John Cheever’s adolescence in New England, the novel follows the destinies of the impecunious and wildly eccentric Wapshots of St. Botolphs, a quintessential Massachusetts fishing village. Here are the stories of Captain Leander Wapshot, venerable sea dog and would-be suicide; of his licentious older son, Moses; and of Moses’ adoring and errant younger brother, Coverly. Tragic and funny, ribald and splendidly picaresque, The Wapshot Chronicle is a family narrative from one of our finest writers.
“Poised, haunting, exquisitely effective storytelling. . . . Lahiri is one of our most beautiful chroniclers of the aching disjunctions of emigration and family.” —San Francisco Chronicle
The Lowland is an engrossing family saga steeped in history: the story of two very different brothers bound by tragedy, a fiercely brilliant woman haunted by her past, a country torn apart by revolution, and a love that endures long past death. Moving from the 1960s to the present, and from India to America and across generations, this dazzling novel is Jhumpa Lahiri at the height of her considerable powers.
“Vivid, passionate and shedding, as true love does, a brilliant, revealing light on the world beyond itself.” —The Sunday Telegraph (London)
Here is an extraordinary cross-cultural love story that unfurls across Egypt, England, and the United States over the course of a century. Isabel Parkman, a divorced American journalist, has fallen in love with a gifted and difficult Egyptian-American conductor. Shadowing her romance is the courtship of her great-grandparents Anna and Sharif nearly one hundred years before. When Isabel, in an attempt to discover the truth behind her heritage, reenacts Anna’s excursion to Egypt, the story of her great-grandparents unravels before her, revealing startling parallels for her own life.
“A monumental portrait of an American family and an American century. . . . Smiley’s plot is a marvel of intricacy that’s full of surprises.” —Los Angeles Times
1920, Denby, Iowa: Rosanna and Walter Langdon have just welcomed their firstborn son, Frank, onto their family farm. He will be the oldest of five. Each chapter in this extraordinary novel covers a single year, encompassing the sweep of history as the Langdons abide by time-honored values and pass them on to their children. The first volume of an epic trilogy (followed by Early Warning and Golden Age) from a beloved writer, Some Luck starts us on a literary adventure through cycles of birth and death, passion and betrayal that will span a century in America.
“Rich in psychological insight and cultural observation. . . . A majestic and capacious accomplishment.” —The Boston Globe
The novels of The Cairo Trilogy trace three generations of the family of tyrannical patriarch Al-Sayyid Ahmad Abd al-Jawad, who rules his household with a strict hand while living a secret life of self-indulgence. Palace Walk introduces us to his gentle, oppressed wife, Amina, his cloistered daughters, Aisha and Khadija, and his three sons—the tragic and idealistic Fahmy, the dissolute hedonist Yasin, and the soul-searching intellectual Kamal. Al-Sayyid Ahmad’s rebellious children struggle to move beyond his domination in Palace of Desire, as the world around them opens to the currents of modernity and political and domestic turmoil brought by the 1920s. Sugar Street brings Mahfouz’s vivid tapestry of an evolving Egypt to a dramatic climax as the aging patriarch sees one grandson become a Communist, one a Muslim fundamentalist, and one the lover of a powerful politician.
Throughout the trilogy, the family’s trials mirror those of their turbulent country during the years spanning the two world wars, as change comes to a society that has resisted it for centuries.
“Absolutely wonderful in just about every single way.” —Newsday
Nomi Eve’s lavishly imagined account begins in Palestine in 1837, with the tale of the irrepressible family matriarch, Esther, who was lured by the smell of baking bread into an affair with the local baker. Esther passes on her passionate nature to her son, Eliezer, whose love for the forbidden Golda threatened to tear the family apart. And to her granddaughter, Avra the thief, a tiny wisp of a girl who thumbed her nose at her elders by swiping precious stones from the local bazaar—and grew to marry a man she met at the scene of a crime. At once epic and intimate, The Family Orchard is a rich historical tapestry of passion and tradition.
“A feast of a novel.” —The Times (London)
The Edwardian era has just begun, and in the idyllic countryside outside of London, young Rosie McCosh and her three sisters are growing up and are inseparable from their neighbors, the two Pitt brothers and the three Pendennis boys. But twelve years later, the outbreak of World War I brings their days of youthful camaraderie to an abrupt end. In the years that follow, these childhood pals will be scattered across Europe—from the trenches of France to the British hospitals where the McCosh sisters serve. Some will lose their lives, some their loved ones, some their faith—and all of them will lose their innocence.
“A winner. . . . Filled with mystical scenes and deeply felt characters. . . . Verghese is something of a magician as a novelist.” —USA Today
Marion and Shiva Stone are twin brothers born of a secret union between a beautiful Indian nun and a brash British surgeon. Orphaned by their mother’s death and their father’s disappearance, bound together by a preternatural connection and a shared fascination with medicine, the twins come of age as Ethiopia hovers on the brink of revolution. Moving from Addis Ababa to New York City and back again, Cutting for Stone is an unforgettable story of love and betrayal, medicine and ordinary miracles—and two brothers whose fates are forever intertwined.
“Rich and exhilarating. . . . You don’t want the novel to end.” —The New York Times Book Review
For the Kellehers, Maine is a place where children run in packs, showers are taken outdoors, and old Irish songs are sung around a piano. As three generations of Kelleher women arrive at the family’s beach house, each brings her own hopes and fears. Maggie is thirty-two and pregnant, waiting for the perfect moment to tell her imperfect boyfriend the news; Ann Marie, a Kelleher by marriage, is channeling her domestic frustration into a dollhouse obsession and an ill-advised crush; Kathleen, the black sheep, never wanted to set foot in the cottage again; and Alice, the matriarch at the center of it all, would trade every floorboard for a chance to undo the events of one night, long ago.
“Enormously accomplished. . . . Rich, absorbing, and full of life.” —The New Yorker
In June of 1989 Paul McLeod, a newspaper publisher and recent widower, travels to Greece, where he falls for a young American artist and reflects on the complicated truth about his marriage. Six years later, again in June, Paul’s death draws his three grown sons and their families back to their ancestral home. Four years farther on, in yet another June, a chance meeting on the Long Island shore brings Fenno, the eldest son, together with Fern Olitsky, the artist who once captivated his father. Now pregnant, Fern must weigh her guilt about the past against her wishes for the future and decide what family means to her.