The best time-jumping novels with multiple protagonists

Who am I?

I’ve always loved “big books,” novels that are described as sagas and chronicles yet whose primary focus is on singular, nuanced characters. I like seeing the ways that lives intersect and reflect each other across decades, and I enjoy being immersed in one world and then dropped, with the turn of a page, into another equally engrossing one. I am the author of the novel Rebellion as well as numerous short stories and essays. Raised in St. Louis, Missouri, I spent several years living in China and a year as the Writer-in-Residence at St. Albans School in Washington, D.C. I now live in Wisconsin, where I write and teach creative writing.


I wrote...

Rebellion

By Molly Patterson,

Book cover of Rebellion

What is my book about?

Two sisters at the end of the nineteenth century embark on very different journeys, one to China as a missionary, the other to the flat landscape of Illinois as a farmer’s wife. Six decades later, a daughter fights to maintain control of the farm in the aftermath of her husband’s untimely death. As the twentieth century turns to the twenty-first, a young woman finds her Chinese town rapidly changing, even as she feels frozen in place. Each woman, constricted by the expectations of family and society, faces a choice whose consequences reverberate through the years. A vibrant story set against a century of complicated relations between China and America, Rebellion portrays with compassion and complexity those who pursue their own thrilling fate.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of White Teeth

Molly Patterson Why did I love this book?

Zadie Smith published this novel when she was only twenty-five, a fact that fills me with envy and awe—it’s too good to have been written by someone so young! I first met it when I was about the same age, have returned to it many times, and only love the book more each time I read it. The voice is big and daring and outrageously funny. The characters are real in both the loveliest and cringiest of ways. The novel spans centuries and at least three continents, but what I love most about the book is its verve: you never know where the narrative is going to take you next. 

By Zadie Smith,

Why should I read it?

8 authors picked White Teeth as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

One of the most talked about fictional debuts of recent years, "White Teeth" is a funny, generous, big-hearted novel, adored by critics and readers alike. Dealing - among many other things - with friendship, love, war, three cultures and three families over three generations, one brown mouse, and the tricky way the past has of coming back and biting you on the ankle, it is a life-affirming, riotous must-read of a book.


Book cover of The Hundred-Year House

Molly Patterson Why did I love this book?

Some time-jumping novels take you all over the globe. Others unearth the history of a single place. Rebecca Makkai’s novel takes the latter approach and pushes it to the extreme: its setting is a house in a suburb of Chicago, which, as a Midwesterner, I am bound to be excited about. Moving backward through time, the book is a masterpiece in terms of construction, but Makkai’s touch is so light she makes it feel easy. I stayed up late several nights in a row rereading this book recently, and given that I’ve got three kids under the age of five, that should tell you everything you need to know.

By Rebecca Makkai,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Hundred-Year House as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From the acclaimed author of The Great Believers, an original, mordantly witty novel about the secrets of an old-money family and their turn-of-the-century estate, Laurelfield.

Meet the Devohrs: Zee, a Marxist literary scholar who detests her parents' wealth but nevertheless finds herself living in their carriage house; Gracie, her mother, who claims she can tell your lot in life by looking at your teeth; and Bruce, her step-father, stockpiling supplies for the Y2K apocalypse and perpetually late for his tee time. Then there's Violet Devohr, Zee's great-grandmother, who they say took her own life somewhere in the vast house, and…


Book cover of China Men

Molly Patterson Why did I love this book?

I first read Maxine Hong Kingston in college, but I can’t remember if I was assigned China Men or The Woman Warrior (the more famous counterpoint to China Men). All I know is that whichever one I read, I loved it so much that I immediately sought out the companion piece, which I also loved. In China Men, Kingston weaves together fiction and nonfiction, history and myth, story and memory. Is it a novel? A tapestry? I’m not quite sure what to call it, and that’s part of what I love about the book. Brief interludes of two or three pages present a single scene; longer stories narrate entire sagas. I love that this volume covers so much literal ground but ultimately feels incredibly personal.

By Maxine Hong Kingston,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked China Men as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The author chronicles the lives of three generations of Chinese men in America, woven from memory, myth and fact. Here's a storyteller's tale of what they endured in a strange new land.


Book cover of Build Your House Around My Body

Molly Patterson Why did I love this book?

Not many books are both frightening and funny, but Kupersmith’s debut novel certainly checks those boxes for me. Like Winnie, a young American in Vietnam, I taught English abroad for a couple of years in my early twenties, and I laughed in recognition of her experiences and outlook early in the novel. But as I turned the pages, I found myself more and more spooked by the hauntings and possessions (not to mention the snakes), and ultimately very moved by the characters and plot. Kupersmith lays out several narratives and then plaits them together, but it’s so gradual that you don’t see how enmeshed all the characters are until you’re neck-deep in the book. It’s horror and humor and history, all rolled into one.

By Violet Kupersmith,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Build Your House Around My Body as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Part puzzle, part revenge tale, part ghost story, this ingenious novel spins half a century of Vietnamese history and folklore into “a thrilling read, acrobatic and filled with verve” (The New York Times Editors’ Choice).
 
FINALIST FOR THE CENTER FOR FICTION’S FIRST NOVEL PRIZE • LONGLISTED FOR THE WOMEN’S PRIZE FOR FICTION • ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR: The New York Times Book Review, NPR, Good Housekeeping, Kirkus Reviews

“Fiction as daring and accomplished as Violet Kupersmith’s first novel reignites my love of the form and its kaleidoscopic possibilities.”—David Mitchell, author of Cloud Atlas

Two young women…


Book cover of The Plague of Doves

Molly Patterson Why did I love this book?

I can never decide which of Erdrich’s books is my favorite, but The Plague of Doves is definitely a major contender. Erdrich’s novelistic style is more like a chorus than a solo: she presents various stories involving different characters in different times, but the stories are in orbit around the central conflict, in this case, a pair of horrific crimes committed long ago. Yet even when the content is dark, her writing is so beautiful that my primary feeling reading it is joy. For me, the title of this book perfectly captures that contradictory experience. 

By Louise Erdrich,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Plague of Doves as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A beautiful, compelling, utterly original new novel from one of the most important American writers of our time, and winner of the National Book Award for Fiction, 2012

Pluto, North Dakota, is a town on the verge of extinction. Here, everybody is connected - by love or friendship, by blood, and, most importantly, by the burden of a shared history.

Growing up on the reservation is Evelina Harp, witty and ambitious, and prone to falling hopelessly in love. Listening to her grandfather's tales, she learns of a horrific crime that has marked both Ojibwe and whites. Nobody understands it better…


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Currently Away: How Two Disenchanted People Traveled the Great Loop for Nine Months and Returned to the Start, Energized and Optimistic

By Bruce Tate,

Book cover of Currently Away: How Two Disenchanted People Traveled the Great Loop for Nine Months and Returned to the Start, Energized and Optimistic

Bruce Tate

New book alert!

What is my book about?

The plan was insane. The trap seemed to snap shut on Bruce and Maggie Tate, an isolation forced on them by the pandemic and America's growing political factionalism. Something had to change.

Maggie's surprising answer: buy a boat, learn to pilot it, and embark on the Great Loop. With no experience, and knowing little about seafaring, diesel motors, or navigation, Maggie, Bruce, and the family dog decided to take on the six-thousand-mile journey down inland rivers, around the Gulf and Atlantic coasts, and across the Great Lakes. They would have to navigate canals, rivers, seas, and locks. But along the way, they made new lifelong friends and were forever changed.

For nine months, Bruce and Maggie navigated shallow rivers, bottomless lakes, joy, and loss. Against all odds, they conquered the Great Loop, and along the way, found common cause across political divides with new friends while blowing the walls off their world.

Currently Away: How Two Disenchanted People Traveled the Great Loop for Nine Months and Returned to the Start, Energized and Optimistic

By Bruce Tate,


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