Share 10 Beautifully Complex Stories About Multi-Generational Families

10 Beautifully Complex Stories About Multi-Generational Families

Alice Martin is a PhD candidate in English Literature at Rutgers University, where she obsesses over nineteenth-century women writers, the history of the publishing industry, and writing practices. She’s also a regular contributor to Shelf Awareness and a freelance writer and editor. Her writing has appeared in The Carolina Quarterly, Appalachian Heritage, and Sixfold among other publications. You can find her talking about books, food, and basketball (in that order) on Twitter @AliceJeanMartin.

Twists of fate. Long-kept secrets. Choices that resound through the ages. Multigenerational stories teach us that our lives are not simply our own but are also woven into the fabric of space, time, and family. In these ten multigenerational epics, matriarchs, patriarchs, and the children they beget all face new challenges but come to realize that these challenges have, in varied forms, echoed through the decades. Give yourself a day to get lost in the layers and tangled roots of heritage and legacy. These stories of indomitable will and gentle strength are testaments not only to the invisible links that connect us all but also to the fact that nothing, even the most immovable obstacle, is immune to change. 


We Are All Good People Here
by Susan Rebecca White

In this stunning, immersive panorama of American culture, the bonds between two lifelong friends are tested as past mistakes put both of their daughters at risk. Eve, the child of old Atlanta money, and Daniella, from a split household in Georgetown, have been friends ever since they were roommates at Belmont College in 1962. Confronted with systematic prejudice in the South, Eve turns to radicalism, but is later disillusioned by an unspeakable tragedy. While Daniella commits to helping Eve start anew, the past won’t stay buried forever. 

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We Are All Good People Here
Susan Rebecca White

From the author of A Place at the Table and A Soft Place to Land, an “intense, complex, and wholly immersive” (Joshilyn Jackson, New York Times bestselling author) multigenerational novel that explores the complex relationship between two very different women and the secrets they bequeath to their daughters.

Eve Whalen, privileged child of an old-money Atlanta family, meets Daniella Gold in the fall of 1962, on their first day at Belmont College. Paired as roommates, the two become fast friends. Daniella, raised in Georgetown by a Jewish father and a Methodist mother, has always felt caught between two worlds. But at Belmont, her bond with Eve allows her to finally experience a sense of belonging. That is, until the girls’ expanding awareness of the South’s systematic injustice forces them to question everything they thought they knew about the world and their places in it.

Eve veers toward radicalism—a choice pragmatic Daniella cannot fathom. After a tragedy, Eve returns to Daniella for help in beginning anew, hoping to shed her past. But the past isn’t so easily buried, as Daniella and Eve discover when their daughters are endangered by secrets meant to stay hidden.

Spanning more than thirty years of American history, from the twilight of Kennedy’s Camelot to the beginning of Bill Clinton’s presidency, We Are All Good People Here is “a captivating…meaningful, resonant story” (Emily Giffin, author of All We Ever Wanted) about two flawed but well-meaning women clinging to a lifelong friendship that is tested by the rushing waters of history and their own good intentions.

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The House of the Spirits
by Isabel Allende

The novel that jumpstarted Isabel Allende’s astonishing career, THE HOUSE OF THE SPIRITS follows three generations of a Latin American family. Esteban, the patriarch, is an intense man with political ambitions. His gentle wife, Clara, has an intuitive bond to the spirit world. Their granddaughter Alba, the result of their daughter’s ill-fated love affair, becomes the jewel of the family and an unstoppable young woman who portends change not only for their family but for their country. Filled with memorable characters and powerful, universal themes, Allende’s novel is a contemporary classic.

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The House of the Spirits
Isabel Allende

“It was an enormous pleasure for me to reread this book three decades after it first made its mark on me. I found myself still enraptured by the words of these women, still dazzled by the magic potion that is Isabel Allende’s gift for storytelling. And as I reached the final page, I smiled in wonderment at the forces that led me to where I am today, and was thankful for the reminder that our future is written in the stars.”

Read Johanna Castillo’s review here.

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Ask Again, Yes
by Mary Beth Keane

Kate Gleeson and Peter Stanhope are childhood neighbors turned friends, then turned lovers. While their love story seems simple, it has been defined for four decades by an explosive event that occurred between their two families, long intertwined by their NYPD fathers and the secrets both sets of parents kept hidden. In this poignant, emotionally sensitive breakout, two people explore the complex nuances of love and remembrance as they build a lifelong relationship, explore their childhoods, and question the very natures of people they’ve become. 

 

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Ask Again, Yes
Mary Beth Keane

One of the most beloved novels of the year, the 2019 Tonight Show Summer Reads pick and “magnificent” (NPR) New York Times bestseller offers “profound insights about blame, forgiveness, and abiding love” (People) about two neighboring families in a suburban town, the friendship between their children, the daily intimacies of marriage, and the power of forgiveness.

Francis Gleeson and Brian Stanhope, rookie cops in the NYPD, live next door to each other outside the city. What happens behind closed doors in both houses—the loneliness of Francis’s wife, Lena, and the instability of Brian’s wife, Anne, sets the stage for the explosive events to come.

“A beautiful novel, bursting at the seams with empathy” (Elle), Ask Again, Yes is a deeply affecting and “smartly told” (Entertainment Weekly) exploration of the lifelong friendship and love that blossoms between Kate Gleeson and Peter Stanhope, born six months apart. One shocking night their loyalties are divided, and their bond will be tested again and again over the next forty years. Heartbreaking and redemptive, Ask Again, Yes is a gorgeous portrait of a relationship haunted by echoes from the past, yet marked by tenderness, generosity, and grace.

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The Ice-Cream Makers
by Ernest van der Kwast

Giovanni Calamine is the heir to an ice cream dynasty in Northern Italy. Despite his family’s hopes for him to take over the business, however, he’s been traveling the world for years as a renowned poet. When his brother calls with a final plea to come home, Giovanni’s allegiances will be tested once and for all. Will he succumb to his family heritage, or break free through the current of his ambitions? Charming and bighearted, THE ICE CREAM MAKERS is a delightful treat. 

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The Ice-Cream Makers
Ernest van der Kwast

In this “moving story of how sacrifices accumulate in the wake of passions left unfulfilled” (Publishers Weekly)—perfect for fans of Fredrik Backman and Lisa Genova—a poet must decide if he should put his family’s or his own needs first when he returns to Italy help run the family business he left behind years ago.

As the heir to a proud Northern Italian ice-cream dynasty, Giovanni Talamini’s family is none too happy when he decides to break with tradition and travel the world as a poet. So when Giovanni receives an unexpected call from his brother, he is faced with a difficult decision: return home to serve in his family’s interests or continue on his own path in life once and for all?

In a heartwarming tale that weaves history with lore and poetry with delicious recipes, The Ice-Cream Makers paints a century-long, multigenerational portrait of a family wrestling with their identity and how to ensure their legacy. This is a “delightful read; smooth as ice cream on a hot summer day” (Kirkus Reviews).

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Who Does She Think She Is?
by Benilde Little

In WHO DOES SHE THINK SHE IS?, three generations of women share the intricacies of their lives with one another to unlock the secrets, anxieties, and assumptions that structure love. Aisha’s plans to marry a wealthy white man are put on hold when she falls suddenly and completely for someone else. In the chaos that ensues, Aisha’s mother and grandmother describe the relationships that have defined their own lives. This feat of storytelling and compassion honors the intimacies of our lives that we hide even from those we love most.

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Who Does She Think She Is?
Benilde Little

Who Does She Think She Is? is a richly evocative multigenerational story of three irrepressible women from the bestselling author of Good Hair and The Itch.

Aisha Branch is in the midst of planning her elaborate wedding to a White man from old-line wealth when the unthinkable happens—she falls for another man, hard. All the drama stirs up old feelings in her mother and grandmother, and as Aisha confronts a painful dilemma, the three Branch women take turns telling their own stories, reflecting separately on their lives and relationships. With her signature dry wit, quietly resonant insight and sharp yet compassionate eye, Benilde Little deftly explores one family’s expectations, anxieties, and abiding love.

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MENTIONED IN:

10 Beautifully Complex Stories About Multi-Generational Families

By Alice Martin | May 5, 2020

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Pachinko
by Min Jin Lee

PACHINKO, a National Book Award finalist and New York Times bestseller, tells the story of a young woman’s love affair and the future generations her legacy entails. In the early days of the twentieth century, teenaged Sunja falls in love with and becomes pregnant by a wealthy, married man. After learning that hes married, Sunja refuses her lover and instead marries a gentle but sickly ministerleaving with him for Japan. In the decades that follow, the complexity of Sunja’s choices alter the fates of generations.

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Pachinko
Min Jin Lee

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Salt Houses
by Hala Alyan

On the eve of a wedding, two women, Salma and Alia, sit down to read their fortunes in the bottoms of coffee cups. In the decades that follow, they will be torn from each other, their families, and their homelands in the wake of the Six-Day War of 1967. While Salma is forced to leave Nablus, Alia and her family set down roots in Kuwait, only to be tossed asunder again by Saddam Hussein’s invasion in 1990. Alia’s children scatter and build lives in foreign cities, weaving together a heart-wrenching tale of diasporic longing. 

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Salt Houses
Hala Alyan

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10 Beautifully Complex Stories About Multi-Generational Families

By Alice Martin | May 5, 2020

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Homegoing
by Yaa Gyasi

In this award-winning, critically acclaimed literary feattwo sisters born in eighteenth-century Ghana begin a journey that traces through eight generations. One sister marries an Englishman and lives a life of luxury, while the other is captured and sold into slavery. From there, their descendants travel from Southern plantations to Civil War battlefields to 1920s HarlemYaa Gyasi’s HOMEGOING is an extraordinary epic that etches the echoes of legacy into the foundations of the future.  

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Homegoing
Yaa Gyasi

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10 Beautifully Complex Stories About Multi-Generational Families

By Alice Martin | May 5, 2020

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The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender
by Leslye Walton

Lyrical and wistful, THE STRANGE AND BEAUTIFUL SORROWS OF AVA LAVENDER frames a multigenerational story through the fable-esque coming-of-age tale of one teenage girl. Ava, otherwise normal, was born with wings. After her sixteenth birthday, and yearning to make sense of herselfshe embarks on a quest into the wider world to discover her family’s history. By turns melancholic and magical, this novel is a mythic delight that will appeal to adult readers and young adults alike.

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The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender
Leslye Walton

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10 Beautifully Complex Stories About Multi-Generational Families

By Alice Martin | May 5, 2020

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A Woman Is No Man
by Etaf Rum

In 1990 Palestine, dreamy and bookish Isra is forced into an arranged marriage at her father’s insistence. Soon, shes living in Brooklyn with her new husband and controlling mother-in-law, Fareeda. In 2008 Brooklyn, Isra’s oldest daughter, eighteen-year-old Deya, is being raised by Fareeda, who insists she marry instead of attending college. As Deya longs for the parents she was told died in a car crash when she was eight, she discovers the secrets that lie beneath the oppressive silence of her family and her community. 

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A Woman Is No Man
Etaf Rum

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10 Beautifully Complex Stories About Multi-Generational Families

By Alice Martin | May 5, 2020

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Photo Credit: iStock/Megan Brady

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