The best books that explore ancestral trauma

Michelle Grierson Author Of Becoming Leidah
By Michelle Grierson

Who am I?

I am a Canadian writer, teacher, and mother with Norwegian and Scottish ancestry. Since my twenties, I have been fascinated by ancestral memory, what Martha Graham (a late great dance pioneer) called ‘blood memory.’ Having spent many years in dance and therapy, diving into my own unique somatic symptoms, I started to realize that my mother’s (and grandmother’s) traumas were entwined and entangled with my own and that my body was holding on to all of it. What a relief to discover the research of transgenerational epigenetics! This curiosity fueled the narrative of my debut novel, Becoming Leidah, allowing me to explore Norse and Celtic mythology, as a way to speak about very personal truths. 

I wrote...

Becoming Leidah

By Michelle Grierson,

Book cover of Becoming Leidah

What is my book about?

In the hinterlands of old Norway, Leidah Pietersdatter is born blue-skinned, with webbed hands and feet. Upon every turn of season, her mother, Maeva, worries as her daughter’s peculiarities blossom—inside the root of the tiny child, a strange power is taking hold.

Maeva tries to hide the girl from the suspicious townsfolk of the austere village of Ørken, just as she conceals her own magical ancestry from her daughter. And Maeva’s adoring husband, Pieter, wants nothing more than for his new family to be accepted by all. But unlike Pieter, who is blinded by love, Maeva is aware that the villagers, who profess a rigid faith to the new God and claim to have abandoned the old ways, are watching for any sign of transgression—and are eager to pounce and punish.
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The books I picked & why


By Toni Morrison,

Book cover of Beloved

Why did I love this book?

The first time I read this book, I was a 22-year-old university student who was voraciously eating up feminist literature. Beloved not only shattered every notion I had about female narratives, voice, and the emotional impact a story could have on a reader, it also ripped me open on an inexplicable somatic, visceral level. Given it's a slave narrative with descriptions of dehumanizing violence against many of the characters, this is not an easy read. But bearing witness is what the book requires. For me, the mother-daughter relationship between Sethe and Beloved is one of the most tender and horrifying I have ever read, and thirty years later, it still haunts me. The echo of trauma resonates on every page, its reverberation, gutting for the reader.  

By Toni Morrison,

Why should I read it?

30 authors picked Beloved as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'Toni Morrison was a giant of her times and ours... Beloved is a heart-breaking testimony to the ongoing ravages of slavery, and should be read by all' Margaret Atwood, New York Times

Discover this beautiful gift edition of Toni Morrison's prize-winning contemporary classic Beloved

It is the mid-1800s and as slavery looks to be coming to an end, Sethe is haunted by the violent trauma it wrought on her former enslaved life at Sweet Home, Kentucky. Her dead baby daughter, whose tombstone bears the single word, Beloved, returns as a spectre to punish her mother, but also to elicit her…

Book cover of Healing Collective Trauma: A Process for Integrating Our Intergenerational and Cultural Wounds

Why did I love this book?

This non-fiction book is so well researched, combining a scientific approach with poetic explorations. Hübl’s writing is so satisfyingly clear, with the latest research in epigenetic theories on trauma. For anyone who doubts the impact of ancestral inheritance, this book offers concrete evidence that the past, present, and future exists in the spirals of our DNA.

By Thomas Hübl, Julie Jordan Avritt,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Healing Collective Trauma as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

What can you do when you carry scars not on your body, but within your soul? And what happens when those spiritual wounds exist not just in you, but in everyone in your life?

Whether or not we have experienced personal trauma, we are all - in very real ways - impacted by the legacy of familial and cultural suffering. Recent research has shown that trauma affects groups just as acutely as it does individuals; it bridges families, generations, communities, and borders. "I believe that unresolved systemic traumas delay the development of the human family, harm the natural world, and…

Book cover of A Chorus of Stones: The Private Life of War

Why did I love this book?

A memoir that blends science and history with myth and memoir, Susan Griffin’s writing is like sinking into deep water to find buried treasure. Every time I pick this book up (again and again), I find relevance, for my own family and the world around me, particularly related to the earthquake that truth-telling has for individuals, families, and nations. It reminds me that interconnectedness is not just an image or an idea; the web of our lives is created and held together by the secrets we keep, and the truths that inevitably surface after years of denial.

By Susan Griffin,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Chorus of Stones as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Written by one of America's most innovative and articulate feminists, this book illustrates how childhood experience, gender and sexuality, private aspirations, and public personae all assume undeniable roles in the causes and effects of war.

Book cover of The Choice: Embrace the Possible

Why did I love this book?

So poignant and personal, this memoir had me riveted with each chapter. Dr. Eger’s retelling of the traumas of war and violence felt so close, as though she were whispering secrets in my ear, Reminding all of us to deal with the terrible demons that cling to families for years, claiming our children, even when we do our best to protect the ones we love. 

By Edith Eva Eger,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked The Choice as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?


Even in hell, hope can flower

'I'll be forever changed by her story' - Oprah Winfrey

'Extraordinary ... will stick with you long after you read it' - Bill Gates

'One of those rare and eternal stories you don't want to end' - Desmond Tutu

'A masterpiece of holocaust literature. Her memoir, like her life, is extraordinary, harrowing and inspiring in equal measure' - The Times Literary Supplement

'I can't imagine a more important message for modern times. Eger's book is a triumph' - The New York Times

In 1944, sixteen-year-old…

What the Body Remembers

By Shauna Singh Baldwin,

Book cover of What the Body Remembers

Why did I love this book?

There are only a few novels that I like to re-read, and this is one of them. Layered with descriptions of jarring political and sexual violence occurring amidst separatist tensions in 1937 in India, this narrative allows for the usually silenced (girls and women) to speak, through the voice of Roop. The complicated relationship between Roop and Satya (both wives of a rich landowner) is only one layer in this richly woven novel. Ancestral trauma, truth, silence, atonement, sacrifice, love, and memory, themes that continue to ripple and resonate for me. 

By Shauna Singh Baldwin,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked What the Body Remembers as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

What the Body Remembers takes place in Rawalpindi, in the Indian state of the Punjab, in 1937 amid the mourning and mounting tension that precedes partition. Satya (whose name means Truth) has failed to give her well-born respected husband, Sardarji, a child. Sardarji, without hesitation or consultation, has found himself a youthful second wife, Roop (meaning body or form), a village girl whose mother died in childbirth, and whose father is deep in debt to him. Satya and Roop's enforced female partnership - by turns warring, sisterly, tender, rivalrous - forms a bitter axis around which the tragedy of this…

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