The family saga is a beloved genre of literature which chronicles the lives and doings of a family or a number of related or interconnected families over a period of time. We bear witness to traditions that are emerging, evolving, and how they are handed on over time. Why do we love family sagas so much? Perhaps because they give us glimpses beyond the daily struggles of life in ways that resonate with our deepest connections to our own families, whether connected by name, blood, or chosen. They can also be a wonderful escape, where we follow characters as they grow and their story’s ripple effects, making us believe they’re almost living and breathing right next to us. Much like our own families, every literary family has its secrets and stories that can be difficult and heartrending, or beautiful and empowering.
Family sagas are doorways that prompt us to engage with our ideas around lineage and kinship, and they remind us that we can change the narratives within our own families and within ourselves. So, here’s a modest list of some touching, poignant, and powerful family sagas to keep you company during this reflective season and beyond.
As always, we are here for you, so please reach out to us if you’d like further recommendations. We’d also love to hear your favorite family saga titles and why you love them in the comments below! If you’re curious about your family lineage and would like to learn more about your family, we have resources to help you. We are answering genealogy questions through our website contact page. Be sure to check out our genealogy blog and sign up for the newsletter, where we share tips and strategies to help you along your genealogical journey. We also created a beginners guide on our website to help you begin your genealogy quest!
The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende
An alluring, multi-generational, historical South American saga, with flawlessly believable magical realism mixed in with all too real politics and history of the region. Love, prison, war, gorgeous places, lush detail-- it has it all. The book delves deep into the intersection of complicated personal and political issues by way of two characters: Clara, a woman with a connection to the spirit world, and her daughter Blanca, who embarks on a forbidden love affair. This is a luminous saga of epic proportions!
Plague of Doves by Louise Erdrich
This enthralling family saga spans several generations and perspectives in a rural North Dakota town near the Ojibwe reservation. Here, local families have never recovered from a brutal murder that led to the tragic execution of several tribal members. Through several unforgettable narrators, the collective stories explore and engage with themes of place, identity, and self-discovery, ultimately coming together to reveal a final wrenching truth to an unsolved mystery. The stories told by the book’s characters dance in the delights of language, and they shine even in the darkest moments of the book. Erdrich is such a powerful writer, and a true pleasure to read.
Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
This is a story that will stick with you for some time. It is a powerful historical novel that spans 300 years from Ghana and beyond. The story starts in the 18th century, where Esi and Effia are half-sisters born into separate villages in Ghana. One sister remains in Ghana, while the other is sold into slavery and taken to America. The novel splits into two from here, the chapters continuing down the family line generation by generation, following the delicate thread of Black survival within the family. Deeply moving and complex, a must read!
The Turner House by Angela Flournoy
The house on Yarrow St. in Detroit’s Eastside has been home to the Turner family for fifty years. When the matriarch Viola’s health takes a turn for the worse she brings the family together to decide what to do with the house. Flournoy brings us a colorful brood full of love, pride, and unlikely inheritances. It's a striking examination of the American dream and a celebration of the ways in which our families bring us home.
Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
This memorable novel follows one Korean family through the generations, beginning in early 1900s Korea with Sunja, the prized daughter of a poor yet proud family, whose unplanned pregnancy threatens to shame them all. Deserted by her lover, Sunja is saved when a young tubercular minister offers to marry and bring her to Japan. So begins an illustrious saga of an exceptional family in exile from its homeland and caught within the indifferent arc of history. Through desperate struggles and hard-won triumphs, its members are bound together by deep roots as they face enduring questions of faith, family, and identity.
The Mountains Sing by Phan Quế Mai Nguyễn
This is the sweeping tale of the Tran family, set against the backdrop of the Vietnam War. Tran Dieu Lan, who was born in 1920, was forced to flee her family farm with her six children. Years later in Hà Noi, her young granddaughter, Hương, comes of age as her parents and uncles head off down the Ho Chí Minh Trail to fight in a conflict that will tear not just her beloved country but her family apart. Vivid, gripping, and steeped in the language and traditions of Vietnam, this intricate novel brings to life the human costs of war from perspectives not often heard, while showing us the true power of kindness and hope.