May 30, 2013

Armchair BEA Discussion: Literary Fiction

Since my discussion of genre fiction was more serious yesterday (and because my blog is full of genre fiction recommendations), I decided to make today's discussion a bit lighter. And for full disclosure here: I do love literary fiction. I love reading a novel with beautiful prose where I can really try to unpack the author's words. 

One particular subgenre of literary fiction I've enjoyed and I find fascinating is the family saga. The family saga chronicles the lives of generations of interconnected family members. Many times it becomes a literary device to aid the author in recounting historical events or making a social criticism.

It's so easy for us to get wrapped up in our everyday lives. We can see how we relate to those around us in the present, but the past isn't something that we always think about. Even when we do, it can be difficult to understand just how we relate to a bigger picture. What I love about family sagas is that they do just that: they put people in relation with their families, and then families in relation with much larger portraits.

I've read quite a few family sagas, so I thought I'd share some of my favorites, and then reveal some that I hope to read. 

Four of my favorite family sagas:
The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende — Through the lives of the Trueba women, Clara, Blanca, and Alba, and their lovers, Allende writes a sweeping story of politics, love, and the tumultuous history of twentieth-century Chile.
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz — The de León family has always blamed fukú for the misfortunes that have fallen upon the past three generations, ever since Abelard decided to defy Dominican dictator Trujillo's demands.
The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver — When their father decides to become a missionary in the Belgian Congo, the entire Price family finds their lives uprooted, so much so that even years later, as they've all gone their separate ways, they cannot escape its influence.
One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez — The Buendia family finds their lives tied to a fictional town set alongside the Colombian jungle as it and they begin the arduous process of adapting to a modernized, post-colonial world.

And four family sagas I intend to read:

The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri The Namesake takes the Ganguli family from their tradition-bound life in Calcutta through their fraught transformation into Americans.(Goodreads)
Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides The breathtaking story of Calliope Stephanides and three generations of the Greek-American Stephanides family who travel from a tiny village overlooking Mount Olympus in Asia Minor to Prohibition-era Detroit, witnessing its glory days as the Motor City, and the race riots of 1967, before they move out to the tree-lined streets of suburban Grosse Pointe, Michigan. (Goodreads)
The Forsyte Saga by John Galsworthy The three novels which make up The Forsyte Saga chronicle the ebbing social power of the commercial upper-middle class Forsyte family between 1886 and 1920. (Goodreads)
Roots by Alex HaleyThe monumental two-century drama of Kunta Kinte and the six generations who came after him—slaves and freedmen, farmers and blacksmiths, lumber mill workers and Pullman porters, lawyers and architects—and one author. (Goodreads)

Do you have any favorite family sagas that I should add to my list?
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Amanda loves few things better than sitting down with a cup of tea and a book. She frequently stays up far too late, telling herself she just needs to finish one more page. When she's not wrapped up in the stories of others, Amanda works as a children's librarian in a public library.


  1. The House of the Spirts is one of my all-time favorites too. It's a book one has to experience, which is why I never even tried to review it. And Allende's writing is superb!
    Of course, I grew up reading One Hundred Years of Solitude. It's my brother's favorite and a book that grows with a person. I experience it very differently each time I read it.

    1. Agreed! And that's so cool. All of those I've read once at most, so it will definitely be interesting to re-read them eventually and see if my reading experience changes!

  2. Someone else mentioned the family saga as well. And who doesn't love a good old family saga, right?

    1. Really? I'm going to have to go find this person now! And yes! I do like family sagas and need to read more of them! :)

  3. Ooh, family sagas! I like those kinds of stories too, though I'm not well-read in the literary fiction arena. I think Dickens was a master of that kind of story.

    1. I know! I feel like I haven't read many. Oh well, definite goal to achieve in terms of reading more literary fiction focused on family sagas. :)

  4. So many interesting books! I need to read Poisonwood Bible and Middlesex! I am bookmarking this post to look at the other books listed later!!

    1. Well, I recommend The Poisonwood Bible for sure, and I have heard great things about Middlesex, so I'm hopeful about that too!

  5. I found this for you: popular family saga on Goodreads:
    I loved a lot One Hundred Years of Solitude. I plan to read Love In The time of cholera

  6. Great angle on literary fiction! There's something so wonderful about good family sagas, maybe just how deeply you end up feeling that you know the characters by the end. Middlesex and The Namesake are both excellent choices -- I hope you enjoy them! If you haven't read Portrait in Sepia by Isabel Allende, I'd add that to the list as well. And maybe The Thorn Birds too!


  7. When I started reading this post, I thought: "Ooh, in the comments I must mention The Poisonwood Bible." But you beat me to it! I loved that book, it was so powerful.

    So, one you didn't mention - have you read The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough? It's an epic, and brilliant.


  8. I recently got to see Isabel Allende speak. She's really amazing!


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