Ever since I’ve read The Eighth Life by Nino Haratischvili, I’ve meant to read more family sagas. I can still remember how the Jashi family’s story made me feel, and I must add that I still miss them. Family sagas tend to be rather thick books, and I find the autumn and winter months most suitable for reading them.
But what are family sagas? According to Wikipedia: “The family saga is a genre of literature which chronicles the lives and doings of a family or a number of related or interconnected families over a period of time. In novels (or sometimes sequences of novels) with serious intent, this is often a thematic device used to portray particular historical events, changes of social circumstances, or the ebb and flow of fortunes from a multitude of perspectives.”
I like family sagas because I like having that strong connection with all the family members, and almost all the family sagas make you feel like you’re part of the family. Reading about them over decades and sometimes centuries takes you out of the comfort of your chair and force you to travel through time and space. It is truly magic. I hope you can find a book to your liking among these family sagas and enjoy it immensely.
20 Best Family Sagas
The Light Years (Cazalet Chronicles) – Elizabeth Jane Howard
Elegantly constructed and told with exceptional grace, The Light Years is a modern classic of twentieth-century English life and is the first novel in Elizabeth Jane Howard’s extraordinary, bestselling family saga The Cazalet Chronicles.
Every summer, the Cazalet brothers – Hugh, Edward and Rupert – return to the family home in the heart of the Sussex countryside with their wives and children. There, they are joined by their parents and unmarried sister Rachel to enjoy two blissful months of picnics, games, and excursions to the coast.
But despite the idyllic setting, nothing can be done to soothe the siblings’ heartache: Hugh is haunted by the ravages of the Great War, Edward is torn between his wife and his latest infidelity, and Rupert is in turmoil over his inability to please his demanding wife. Meanwhile, Rachel risks losing her only chance at happiness because of her unflinching loyalty to the family. One of the most popular family sagas.
The Thorn Birds – Colleen McCullough
One of the most popular family sagas. The Thorn Birds is a robust, romantic saga of a singular family, the Clearys. It begins in the early part of this century, when Paddy Cleary moves his wife, Fiona, and their seven children to Drogheda, the vast Australian sheep station owned by his autocratic and childless older sister; and it ends more than half a century later, when the only survivor of the third generation, the brilliant actress Justine O’Neill, sets a course of life and love halfway around the world from her roots.
The central figures in this enthralling story are the indomitable Meggie, the only Cleary daughter, and the one man she truly loves, the stunningly handsome and ambitious priest Ralph de Bricassart. Ralph’s course moves him a long way indeed, from a remote Outback parish to the halls of the Vatican; and Meggie’s except for a brief and miserable marriage elsewhere, is fixed to the Drogheda that is part of her bones – but distance does not dim their feelings though it shapes their lives.
Wonderful characters people this book; strong and gentle, Paddy, hiding a private memory; dutiful Fiona, holding back love because it once betrayed her, violent, tormented Frank, and the other hardworking Cleary sons who give the boundless lands of Drogheda the energy and devotion most men save for women; Meggie; Ralph; and Meggie’s children, Justine and Dane. And the land itself; stark, relentless in its demands, brilliant in its flowering, prey to gigantic cycles of drought and flood, rich when nature is bountiful, surreal like no other place on earth. A must-read among family sagas.
The House of the Spirits – Isabel Allende
As a girl, Clara del Valle can read fortunes, make objects move as if they had lives of their own, and predict the future. Following the mysterious death of her sister, Rosa the Beautiful, Clara is mute for nine years. When she breaks her silence, it is to announce that she will be married soon to the stern and volatile landowner Esteban Trueba.
Set in an unnamed Latin American country over three generations, The House of the Spirits is a magnificent epic of a proud and passionate family, secret loves and violent revolution. One of the most beloved family sagas.
East of Eden – John Steinbeck
California’s fertile Salinas Valley is home to two families whose destinies are fruitfully, and fatally, intertwined. Over the generations, between the beginning of the twentieth century and the end of the First World War, the Trasks and the Hamiltons will helplessly replay the fall of Adam and Eve and the murderous rivalry of Cain and Abel.
East of Eden was considered by Steinbeck to be his magnum opus, and its epic scope and memorable characters, exploring universal themes of love and identity, ensure it remains one of America’s most enduring novels. This edition features a stunning new cover by renowned artist Bijou Karman. One of the most popular family sagas out there.
Bellefleur – Joyce Carol Oates
A wealthy and notorious clan, the Bellefleurs live in a region not unlike the Adirondacks, in an enormous mansion on the shores of mythic Lake Noir. They own vast lands and profitable businesses, they employ their neighbors, and they influence the government. A prolific and eccentric group, they include several millionaires, a mass murderer, a spiritual seeker who climbs into the mountains looking for God, a wealthy noctambulist who dies of a chicken scratch.
Bellefleur traces the lives of several generations of this unusual family. At its center is Gideon Bellefleur and his imperious, somewhat psychic, very beautiful wife, Leah, their three children (one with frightening psychic abilities), and the servants and relatives, living and dead, who inhabit the mansion and its environs. Their story offers a profound look at the world’s changeableness, time and eternity, space and soul, pride and physicality versus love. Bellefleur is an allegory of caritas versus cupiditas, love and selflessness versus pride and selfishness. It is a novel of change, baffling complexity, mystery. A gothic novel among family sagas.
A Suitable Boy – Vikram Seth
A modern classic, this epic tale of families, romance and political intrigue, set in India, never loses its power to delight and enchant readers.
At its core, A Suitable Boy is a love story: the tale of Lata – and her mother’s – attempts to find her a suitable husband, through love or through exacting maternal appraisal. At the same time, it is the story of India, newly independent and struggling through a time of crisis as a sixth of the world’s population faces its first great general election and the chance to map its own destiny. A popular one among family sagas.
The Wheel Of Fortune – Susan Howatch
Robert Godwin’s tumultuous ride on the Wheel of Fortune begins with his passion for his sensual cousin Ginevra, as they waltz to ‘The Blue Danube’ beneath the chandeliers at Oxmoon, his beloved family home in Wales. As Robert discovers, his rational, well-ordered mind will be forever altered by his obsession for Ginevra, and his destiny will be forever linked to Oxmoon by the skeletons which lurk in the family closet…
For fifty years, from the sinister summer afternoon of 1913 to the 1960s, the Godwin family are sucked into a maelstrom of passion, disorder, madness and murder. Fortunes rise and fall in this sweeping, compulsive tale, until the Wheel of Fortune finally comes full circle. an interesting choşce among family sagas.
Angle of Repose – Wallace Stegner
Wallace Stegner’s Pultizer Prize-winning novel is a story of discovery—personal, historical, and geographical. Confined to a wheelchair, retired historian Lyman Ward sets out to write his grandparents’ remarkable story, chronicling their days spent carving civilization into the surface of America’s western frontier. But his research reveals even more about his own life than he’s willing to admit. What emerges is an enthralling portrait of four generations in the life of an American family. A Pulitzer winner among family sagas.
The Forsyte Saga – John Galsworthy
The Forsyte Saga is the first part of John Galsworthy’s magnificent, well-loved Forsyte Chronicles, which trace the changing fortunes of the wealthy Forsyte dynasty through fifty years of material triumph and emotional disaster. The Forsyte Saga begins as the nineteenth century is drawing to a close, and the upper-middle classes, with their property and propriety, are becoming a dying section of society.
The Forsytes are blind to this fact, clinging to their conventions and ‘brilliant respectability’. As dignified Soames Forsyte struggles to uphold the old moral code in the face of the social revolution resulting from the Great War, his wife Irene’s extraordinary beauty causes even more disruption. The bitter feud between them comes to split the Forsyte family for two generations. A Nobel winner among family sagas.
Pachinko – Min Jin Lee
Yeongdo, Korea 1911. In a small fishing village on the banks of the East Sea, a club-footed, cleft-lipped man marries a fifteen-year-old girl. The couple have one child, their beloved daughter Sunja. When Sunja falls pregnant by a married yakuza, the family face ruin. But then Isak, a Christian minister, offers her a chance of salvation: a new life in Japan as his wife.
Following a man she barely knows to a hostile country in which she has no friends, no home, and whose language she cannot speak, Sunja’s salvation is just the beginning of her story.
Through eight decades and four generations, Pachinko is an epic tale of family, identity, love, death and survival. A contemporary one among family sagas.
God is an Englishman (The Swann Saga) – R. F. Delderfield
The first novel in the epic God Is an Englishman series, this book is a stirring saga of England in the 19th century, as the Industrial Revolution takes hold, forever changing the landscape of England and her people.
Adam Swann, scion of an army family, returns home in 1858 after service with Her Majesty’s army in the Crimea and India, determined to build his fortune in the dog-eat-dog world of Victorian commerce. Swann is soon captivated by Henrietta, the high-spirited daughter of a local mill owner. As Swann works to build his name, he and Henrietta share adventures, reversal, and fortune.
A beloved novel by a beloved author, God Is an Englishman is a treasure both for Delderfield fans and the growing legion of fans of historical fiction among family sagas.
The Shell Seekers – Rosamunde Pilcher
Artist’s daughter Penelope Keeling can look back on a full and varied life: a Bohemian childhood in London and Cornwall, an unhappy wartime marriage, and the one man she truly loved. She has brought up three children – and learned to accept them as they are.
Yet she is far too energetic and independent to settle sweetly into pensioned-off old-age. And when she discovers that her most treasured possession, her father’s painting, The Shell Seekers, is now worth a small fortune, it is Penelope who must make the decisions that will determine whether her family can continue to survive as a family, or be split apart. An old gem among family sagas.
The Godfather – Mario Puzo
A book that cannot be defined by one genre among family sagas The Godfather—the epic tale of crime and betrayal that became a global phenomenon.
Almost fifty years ago, a classic was born. A searing portrayal of the Mafia underworld, The Godfather introduced readers to the first family of American crime fiction, the Corleones, and their powerful legacy of tradition, blood, and honor. The seduction of power, the pitfalls of greed, and the allegiance to family—these are the themes that have resonated with millions of readers around the world and made The Godfather the definitive novel of the violent subculture that, steeped in intrigue and controversy, remains indelibly etched in our collective consciousness. A legend among family sagas.
Fall On Your Knees – Ann-Marie MacDonald
They are the Pipers of Cape Breton Island — a family steeped in lies and unspoken truths that reach out from the past, forever mindful of the tragic secret that could shatter the family to its foundations. Chronicling five generations of this eccentric clan, Fall on Your Knees follows four remarkable sisters whose lives are filled with driving ambition, inescapable family bonds, and forbidden love. Their experiences will take them from their storm swept homeland, across the battlefields of World War I, to the freedom and independence of Jazz-era New York City.
Compellingly written, running the literary gamut from menacingly dark to hilariously funny, this is an epic saga of one family’s trials and triumphs in a world of sin, guilt, and redemption. An award winner among family sagas.
One Hundred Years of Solitude – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
A magical realism novel among family sagas. Gabriel García Márquez’s great masterpiece is the story of seven generations of the Buendía family and of Macondo, the town they built. Though little more than a settlement surrounded by mountains, Macondo has its wars and disasters, even its wonders and its miracles. A microcosm of Columbian life, its secrets lie hidden, encoded in a book, and only Aureliano Buendía can fathom its mysteries and reveal its shrouded destiny.
Blending political reality with magic realism, fantasy and comic invention, One Hundred Years of Solitude is one of the most daringly original works of the twentieth century.
Ada or Ardor – Vladimir Nabokov
Ada or Ardor is a romance that follows Ada from her first childhood meeting with Van Veen on his uncle’s country estate, in a ‘dream-bright America, through eighty years of rapture, as they cross continents, are continually parted and reunited, come to learn the strange truth about their singular relationship and, decades later, put their extraordinary experiences into words.
Written in mischievous and magically flowing prose, Nabokov’s longest, richest novel is a love story, but also a fairy tale, a historical parody, an erotic satire, an exploration of the passing of time and a supreme work of the imagination. A romance among family sagas.
Sarum – Edward Rutherfurd
The towering story of five families through 100 centuries of turmoil, tyranny, passion and prosperity.
A masterpiece of breathtaking scope, from the Ice Age to the present day, Sarum traces the entire turbulent course of English history through the epic saga of five families.
The Wilsons and the Shockleys, locked in a cycle of revenge and rivalry for more than 400 years; the Masons, who pour their inspired love of stone into the creation of Stonehenge and Salisbury Cathedral; the Porters, descended from a young Roman soldier in exile; and the aristocratic Godfreys, who will fall to the very bottom of the social ladder before their fortunes revive.
As their fates and fortunes intertwine over the course of the centuries, through struggle and adventure, their greater destinies offer a fascinating glimpse into the future. A gem among family sagas.
The Good Earth – Pearl S. Buck
When O-lan, a servant girl, marries the peasant Wang Lung, she toils tirelessly through four pregnancies for their family’s survival. Reward at first is meagre, but there is sustenance in the land – until the famine comes.
Half-starved, the family joins thousands of peasants to beg on the city streets. It seems that all is lost, until O-lan’s desperate will to survive returns them home with undreamt-of wealth. But they have betrayed the earth from which true wealth springs, and the family’s money breeds only mistrust, deception – and heartbreak for the woman who had saved them.
The Good Earth is one of those riveting family sagas and a story of female sacrifice – a classic of twentieth-century literature.
The Cairo Trilogy – Naguib Mahfouz
The novels of The Cairo Trilogy trace three generations of the family of tyrannical patriarch al-Sayyid Ahmad Abd al-Jawad, who rules his household with a strict hand while living a secret life of self-indulgence. A trilogy among family sagas.
Palace Walk introduces us to his gentle, oppressed wife, Amina, his cloistered daughters, Aisha and Khadija, and his three sons – the tragic and idealistic Fahmy, the dissolute hedonist Yasin, and the soul-searching intellectual Kamal.
Al-Sayyid Ahmad’s rebellious children struggle to move beyond his domination in Palace of Desire, as the world around them opens to the currents of modernity and political and domestic turmoil brought by the 1920s.
Sugar Street brings Mahfouz’s vivid tapestry of an evolving Egypt to a dramatic climax as the ageing patriarch sees one grandson become a Communist, one a Muslim fundamentalist, and one the lover of a powerful politician.
Throughout the trilogy, the family’s trials mirror those of their turbulent country during the years spanning the two World Wars, as change comes to a society that has resisted it for centuries. Filled with compelling drama, earthy humour and remarkable insight, The Cairo Trilogy is the achievement of a master storyteller and one of the great family sagas.
The Eighth Life – Nino Haratischvili
One of the epic family sagas beginning with the Russian Revolution and swirling across a century, encompassing war, loss, love requited and unrequited, ghosts, joy, massacres, tragedy. And hot chocolate.
At the start of the twentieth century, on the edge of the Russian empire, a family prospers. It owes its success to a delicious chocolate recipe, passed down the generations with great solemnity and caution. A caution which is justified: this is a recipe for ecstasy that carries a very bitter aftertaste…
Stasia learns it from her Georgian father and takes it north, following her new husband, Simon, to his posting at the center of the Russian Revolution in St Petersburg. Stasia’s is only the first in a symphony of grand but all too often doomed romances that swirl from sweet to sour in this epic tale of the red century.
Tumbling down the years, and across vast expanses of longing and loss, generation after generation of this compelling family hears echoes and sees reflections. A ballet dancer never makes it to Paris and a singer pines for Vienna. Great characters and greater relationships come and go and come again; the world shakes, and shakes some more, and the reader rejoices to have found at last one of those glorious old books in which you can live and learn, be lost and found, and make indelible new friends. One of my favourites among family sagas.
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Are there any family sagas you’d like to add to this list? Would you please share in the comments section below?