The best multi-generational historical fiction

Who am I?

I’m fascinated with our familial, political, and cultural legacies, particularly events that displaced or forced immigration upon its people. Being Irish, we are dispersed to the four corners of the earth and often, I think about the millions of Irish immigrants who fled our shores to start again in a different country with a different culture and my imagination comes alive at the sights and changes they saw and how they had to adapt. I’ve written four historical fiction novels. One is based solely in Ireland, the others are based between Ireland and Jamaica, New York, and the American West. All of my novels are multigenerational.

I wrote...

The Tide Between Us

By Olive Collins,

Book cover of The Tide Between Us

What is my book about?

1821: A cargo of Irish children is deported to the cane fields of Jamaica. 1991: Their story is uncovered. Bestselling author Olive Collins “brings history to life in this mesmerizing epic spanning 5 generations and 170 years,” The Post.

The books I picked & why

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The House of the Spirits

By Isabel Allende,

Book cover of The House of the Spirits

Why this book?

This was my first adult multi-generational novel which is based in an unnamed South American country during the 20th Century. I was gripped from the first line, "Barrabas came to us by sea, the child Clara wrote in her delicate calligraphy." And so begins the story of three generations of the Trueba Family. The patriarch has lofty political aspirations but his family doesn’t share his views which results in conflicts that are both tragic and comic. The novel weaves a family saga against a backdrop of political history. 

The Joy Luck Club

By Amy Tan,

Book cover of The Joy Luck Club

Why this book?

This multigenerational novel took me from San Francisco to China. It's like a collection of short stories with each story connected. It tells about the lives of four Chinese immigrant women who arrived San Francisco in 1949. They met through their church and once a week gather to play mahjong and talk. They call themselves the Joy Luck Club. Each lady tells their story and the circumstances that brought them to America, sometimes their accounts are brutal yet realistic. It’s a heartfelt novel of mothers and daughters, how generations differ and conflict rises and falls like the ebbing tides. The reason I loved it is because the story can apply to any nationality and any epoch. Ultimately it's about mothers and daughters, their ambitions, disappointments, and ultimately their acceptance.   

Academy Street

By Mary Costello,

Book cover of Academy Street

Why this book?

This is one of my favorite novels and one that I can’t stop recommending. There isn’t a word wasted in this intimate and evocative novel which is based between Ireland and New York. The protagonist, Tess Lohan was born in Ireland in 1944. Through Tess, we are given a ringside view of Irish life in the 40s, the harshness and stoicism, the distance between family and that which is unsaid. Tess takes us from Ireland to New York City in 1962 and the challenges of loneliness and joy of an Irish immigrant. We see her struggling as a single mother and an ironclad friendship with Willa, a person of color from Mississippi who shares her apartment block. We see tragedy during 9/11 and follow Tess into old age. I almost mourned when I finish this novel. 

The Glass Palace

By Amitav Ghosh,

Book cover of The Glass Palace

Why this book?

This epic historical fiction novel took me to Burma in 1885 and continues to 1990. The first line sets the standard for this gripping read, “In the marketplace of Mandalay, only the 11-year-old Indian boy Rajkumar recognizes the booming sounds beyond the curve of the river as the English cannon fire.” Rajkumar witnesses Britain’s invasion and capture of Burma’s capital. He sees the looters ransack the Glass Palace. Rajkumar catches sight of Dolly, a 10-year-old nursemaid. He recalls this sighting through the years as he makes his fortune in the teak trade. In this novel, the author brings to life the tumultuous political history of Burma and Malaya. Although I read the novel almost 20 years ago, I still recall vivid and powerful scenes.  

Cutting for Stone

By Abraham Verghese,

Book cover of Cutting for Stone

Why this book?

This sweeping historical novel took me from Addis Ababa to New York. It gave me insight to the missionary medics and the political landscape of Ethiopia. Marion and his conjoined twin brother Shavia are the central characters in this multigenerational saga. After their mother’s death and the father’s disappearance they were orphaned. Marion’s quest is to find the identity of his biological father which takes us to New York where Marion, like his father, is a renowned surgeon. The reason the novel remains one of favorites is that there are many levels to the story, historical and philosophical, it's also emotive and wise with a cast of unforgettable characters. 

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