A Few Somewhat Overlooked Must-Read Family Sagas

shelved under Fiction

I’ve always been fascinated by family sagas, and when they combine real historical depth — over a large span of time — about a country, they're even more seductive. I'd always rather read a novel than a history book, and this selection is a terrific way to visit a few countries. Family sagas always feature a delicious tangle of love affairs and broken hearts in these kinds of books, mirroring the fracturing of entire classes, if not countries.

Editor's Note: as the person who runs Flashlight Worthy, I get a lot of books in the mail. A lot. (I warn the authors that I'm only able to read about 2% of what I receive but hope springs eternal and they send them anyway.) I'm happy to report that Dominique's book is one of the few that made it to the top of the pile. I won't tell you anything about it other than to report that I found it to be a brave and honest memoir of an experience that anyone would find difficult. I encourage you to read it.

 

Buddenbrooks: The Decline of a Family

by Thomas Mann

Published in 1901, when the author was an astonishing twenty one year old, Buddenbrooks covers four generations of a family in decline. It's a ravishing portrait of German bourgeois society in the 19th century, and is especially forceful in describing the conflict between artistic and business temperaments. It won a Nobel Prize in 1929.

 

The Makioka Sisters

by Junichiro Tanizaki

Written between 1943 and 1948, this novel traces the lives of four sisters from a once wealthy Japanese family. Tanizaki is obsessed with the decline of the aristocracy and the rapid transformation of his country in the 20th century. He is also a master of subtle eroticism. I will never forget the swallowing of the live fish.

 

The Cairo Trilogy: Palace Walk, Palace of Desire, Sugar Street

by Naguib Mahfouz

You can smell the spicy heat of Cairo's bustling streets as you read this trilogy — actually published as three books. They were written in the mid-fifties, and through three generations of a family, Mahfouz explores the ways in which social change disrupts — and enhances — people's ability to find meaning in their lives. He's especially good on the effects of a paternalistic society on the young women of the family; the books cover the period from 1919 to the end of World War II.

 

The Forsyte Saga

by John Galsworthy

You'll want to weep simply because this book (a series of three novels) has to end. They were published between 1906 and 1921 and chronicle the lives of members of the Forsyte family — new money in upper-middle-class British society, edging out the old. Galsworthy is fantastic on the ways in which money expressed itself in architecture and art — and love.