Let’s Talk: Multi-Generational Family Novels

Hi everyone. I’m Rincey and I am one of the contributing editors over at Book Riot. So this week I want to talk to you guys about multi-generational novels. This is the thing best I didn’t really think about very much. I don’t know if it’s a relatively new trend, I doubt that. But I feel like just recently I’ve noticed two big books come out that are multi-generational novels. And I’ve really enjoyed both of them, much to my own surprise. I’m generally someone who likes character-driven stories, which is part of the reason why I love these types of books. But usually, or at least like in my head, hearing that a book is a multi-generational novel, I think I’m more inclined to not like those books. Because I usually like books that go a little bit deeper with the characters and the idea of covering like decades or even maybe like hundreds of years over the course of a three to five hundred page book might not provide me with enough depth and enough background to each, all of those characters to do them justice. But I’ve really enjoyed two in the past two years and so I wanted to share those with you and talk a little bit about why I like this type of story. So the first one was Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi. This was my favorite book that I read last year. I enjoyed it so much. This one feels more like a collection of short stories that are all like interlocked because you are following this family generation down its tree. But the reason why I love this book so much is that it covers the span of about like 300 years over the course of like a 300-page book, which is really impressive and I felt like I connected with all of the characters in this book so deeply. And I think part of that is just because like you see a little bit of like the previous generation in that chapter and see a little bit of what’s coming at the end of the chapter. And so they all are all really closely connected to each other. And so that I think that provides a lot more depth to all the different storylines that are happening here. But I think my favorite part was just seeing how the actions of the decisions of one generation trickles down and has an effect through multiple generations, farther than you think that is normally would. Which I think is something that as human beings we don’t really have that perspective a lot of times. We have such a limited view of like our own family histories or maybe even just our general history of like the world that we live in that it’s hard for us to see sort of like the larger overview of the world around us or even the effects of actions and decisions that are being made. And I feel like this book does a really great job of providing some perspective into that and showing how decisions have a larger effect than we think that they might. And then the other book that I read more recently was Panchinko by Min Jin Lee. This is a new release that came out in February and I absolutely adored this book as well. This story follows a family of Koreans who are living in Japan. It takes place from about the early 1900s through about the 1980s. And it was so well done. Now, again, with this one you don’t get a lot of depth with all of the different characters but I feel like I was so connected to the characters in this book so quickly and I started to care about this family a lot and I cared about like all of the different generations of this family a lot. And there are parts of it that felt slightly maybe more rushed or you know again, it wasn’t as deep as I would normally like for my stories. But I think that there’s just so much happening in here that really drew me in. The great thing about this story as well is it talks about the tension of having Koreans in Japan especially during this time period. There was a lot of prejudice against them. They talked a lot about how Koreans aren’t really viewed as like Japanese citizens. They’re viewed as almost like aliens in this country whether they were born there or not. As long as you’re of Korean descent, you’re not to us being Japanese and even if you’re like half Japanese or something along those lines, like you’re still looked down upon. And so I think that this book does a really great job of telling the story of how different generation deal with this sort of prejudice and how they try to overcome it and realize they can’t how just the struggles of being an immigrant in another country affects different generations in different ways. And so I really, really enjoyed it for that reason. For lots of reasons, but especially for that reason. So yeah, those are just two examples that I have. I tried to look through my books to see if I have read any others that are like that, but I don’t have a lot of examples. Like a lot of times you might just follow like a parent and kid. But following through like decades or hundreds of years is really, really rare. So if you have any other book recommendations along those lines I would love to hear them down in the comments below. And also if you are someone who liked Homegoing a lot, I think that you would like Panchinko. Obviously it’s not exactly the same and obviously I liked Homegoing a lot more, but I think that Panchinko was a fantastic book and highly recommend it. So yeah, that’s all I have for this week and I will see you next week. Bye.

14 thoughts on “Let’s Talk: Multi-Generational Family Novels

  1. So I definitely won't be the last person to recommend this but 'One Hundred Years of Solitude' by Marquez. It's an amazing example of a multi-generational story with elements of magic realism and is well worth a read (particularly if you can find a copy which is kind enough to provide a family tree!)

  2. I was thinking about picking up Homegoing next! I've heard such great things about it. Also I just purchased Pachinko, and will be getting to that soon as well. I think I will love these because A Spool of Blue Thread surprised me because I loved the family stories in that novel.

  3. Amy Tan rules at multigenerational. Oscar Wao also came to mind. Not quite the same, but definitely had a rooted in the lives of our ancestors vibe. And so damn good.

  4. These are the best kind of novels! Like everyone else has said, One Hundred Years is a must-read. It's brilliant how the history of a family also represents the history of Colombia.
    Two more contemporary books I liked were Beauty is a Wound – Eka Kurniawen (an Indonesian book about a prostitute who rises from the grave and her four daughters) and The Break – Katherena Vermette (a character-driven book by a Métis author about a family of women coming together in a time of crisis)

  5. I like these kinds of stories too. Some of my favorites are Wild Swans by Jung Chang, Roots by Alex Haley, and The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri.

  6. The House At The Edge Of Night by Catherine Banner is a beautiful multigenerational family saga. It's set on a remote island off the coast of Italy and spans about a century. It was my absolute favorite read of 2016 and I think it deserves waaayyyy more hype than it received.

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