I love reading books that span multiple generations. Multi-generational books offer some of the best explorations of the complexities of family relationships, as well as a window into the changing historical and social contexts of a place.
Combined with utterly fantastic writing, the multi-generational books in this list create a bridge between the past, present, and future and explore timeless themes of love, loss, and being human. I think this is what makes them so memorable.
Dive into my pick of the best multi-generational books to get to know a single family across multiple generations. Get ready to witness changing fortunes and the turning tide of progress, but also the determination of the past to repeat itself.
The best multi-generational novels to add to your reading list
1. Greenwood by Michael Christie
Greenwood is a gorgeous multi-generational novel about trees, our changing climate, the twists and turns of fortune, and doing the right thing.
It’s a similar book to the Pulitzer Prize winner The Overstory, but I think they complement each other perfectly. If you loved one, you should absolutely read the other.
2. Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
Pachinko is a masterpiece of a novel. This five-hundred-page epic about multiple generations of a Korean immigrant family – and their changing fortunes – spans their homeland, Japan, and the US.
I recently re-read Pachinko in time for the Apple TV adaptation and found so much to fall in love with all over again. It’s so raw and compulsively readable – and a recommendation with one of the highest satisfaction rates for people who don’t know what to read, I’ve found.
3. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez
One Hundred Years of Solitude tells the magnetic story of the rise and fall, birth and death of the mythical town of Macondo through the history of the Buendiá family.
This multi-generational book is one of the most influential modern classics from the master of magical realism, as well as a masterclass in the art of fiction.
4. Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China by Jung Chang
A bestselling ode to courage and resilience first published in 1991, Wild Swans is the memoir of three generations in twentieth-century China.
Don’t expect easy reading, but it’s worth it – toeing the line between despair and faith, this book blends a record of Mao’s impact with a unique window into the experience of being a woman in China.
5. White Teeth by Zadie Smith
White Teeth is Zadie Smith’s award-winning debut novel, spanning multiple generations of immigrant families in London as they struggle with racism, identity, and the cultural divide between parents and children.
This multi-generational book is one of the best places to start with Zadie Smith’s writing, as well as one of the most insightful explorations of modern-day Britain in fiction.
6. The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende
You can think of The House of the Spirits as a female-focused version of One Hundred Years of Solitude, but it’s a modern classic in its own right.
This masterclass in magical realism brings to life the triumphs and tragedies of three generations of the Trueba family, creating an enthralling epic that spans decades and lives in Chile.
When Blanca, the daughter of political patriarch Esteban and his delicate and mystical wife Clara, embarks on a forbidden love affair, everything will change with strong-willed, revolutionary Alba.
7. The Island of Missing Trees by Elif Shafak
In the gorgeously written The Island of Missing Trees, it’s 1974 on the island of Cyprus, and two teenagers from opposite sides of a divided land meet at a tavern in the city they call home.
In the centre of the tavern, growing towards the light from a cavity in the roof, is a fig tree that witnesses everything.
Decades later in north London, sixteen-year-old Ada Kazantzakis has never visited the island where her parents were born. But as she seeks to detangle years of secrets, she does have one connection to the land of her ancestors: a Ficus Carica growing in the back garden of their home.
8. Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
Homegoing is Yaa Gyasi’s powerful multi-generational novel that follows the lives of two half-sisters born in the eighteenth century, Effia and Esi, and their descendants, across eight generations in Ghana and America.
As one sister marries an Englishman and leads a life of comfort, the other sister is captured and sold into slavery. With outstanding prose, this extraordinary novel illuminates slavery’s troubled history and legacy today.
9. Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
Middlesex is the Pulitzer Prize-winning multi-generational story of Calliope/Cal Stephanides and three generations of the Greek-American Stephanides family.
As Cal navigates a journey of self-discovery, identity, and gender while tracing the roots of their family’s past, this reinvention of the American epic travels from a tiny village overlooking Mount Olympus to the tree-lined streets of suburban Michigan.
10. The Covenant of Water by Abraham Verghese
Fourteen years after the release of Cutting for Stone, Verghese’s new novel is an epic multi-generational saga of love, faith, and medicine, set against the historical progress of India from 1900 through to the 1970s.
For more great books to add to your reading list, you might also like the best books to read when you don’t know what to read and the best places to find good books.