25 expansive stories that follow a character across decades

25 expansive stories that follow a character across decades

Readers, how many of us have finished the last chapter of a book, only to wish we could stay with our favorite character a little bit longer, or maybe forever? After spending hundreds of pages together, some characters stick with us like an old friend, a true love, or a beloved family member. We simply can’t get enough of their company.

Today, I’m sharing titles that help us hang on to a character’s journey for as long as we possibly can. These books follow characters over the course of many years—the span of several decades, or across multiple generations.

Despite their scope, not all these books are giant tomes (though many do exceed 400 pages). In this book list you’ll find a mix of individual character transformations and complicated family stories, so keep an eye out for the kind of story you suspect you’ll love.

If you enjoy books in which you get to know a character over the course of their entire life, this list is for you.

25 books that invite you to accompany a favorite character for a lifetime

Cutting for Stone

Cutting for Stone

This engrossing story combines medicine, family, and politics to great effect. Moving between India, Ethiopia, and New York City, we follow the story of identical twin brothers, born of a secret union between an Indian nun and the British surgeon she assisted. Part coming-of-age story, part mystery, part sweeping family story, this novel defies easy genre categorizations and ranks as the favorite book EVER of legions of readers. There are some difficult scenes, and it starts slowly—but it is 100% worth every page. More info →
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The Lake House

The Lake House

Author:
One of my favorite Kate Morton novels. In 1933, a young child disappeared without a trace. In 2003, a disgraced young detective stumbles upon the cold case and soon discovers its ties to one of England's oldest and most celebrated mystery writer (think Agatha Christie). I absolutely loved reading a mystery novel about a mystery novelist: the references to the fictional author's writing process and working life were delightfully meta and utterly fascinating. Following the characters across decades made for absorbing reading, too. More info →
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Jane Eyre

Jane Eyre

This groundbreaking classic is a gothic romance, mystery, and psychological thriller all rolled into one; its themes were astonishingly modern for 1847. If you never read it in high school, give it a try now. You’ll be kicking yourself for not reading it decades sooner. Those who have read it will spot its influence everywhere. The title makes it clear: we follow Jane Eyre from childhood to adulthood as she learns to speak up for herself and make bold choices. (My 15yo is reading this right now and says it may be the best book she's ever read, which is bringing me so much joy as a book-loving parent.) More info →
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The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared

The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared

Author:
This international bestseller was originally published in Sweden in 2009. It's drawn comparisons to Forrest Gump, because the 100-year-old man of the title finds himself involved in key political moments throughout the course of his long life. It's not to everyone's taste, but those who do often call it "clever," "quirky," and "un-put-down-able." (For what it's worth, I enjoyed the story and sense of humor.) More info →
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The Thorn Birds

The Thorn Birds

McCullough's modern classic tracks an Australian family across three generations. This sweeping Australian saga tops many a reader's favorite books list for its captivating romance, dramatic turns, and vivid setting. (It should be noted that for every two people who adore this book there's one who considers it a schmaltzy romance.) Read it and decide for yourself, especially if you're looking for a doorstop of a novel that will keep you busy for ages. This saga has enough family drama to fill 700 pages. More info →
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Life After Life: A Novel

Life After Life: A Novel

Author:
I began this book knowing nothing about it, and it took me a while to get my bearings. Atkinson's creative (and sometimes, mind-bending) structure shows clearly how tiny choices in her protagonist's life (and the lives of those around her) lead to vastly different outcomes. Vastly. Ursula Todd dies before taking her first breath, while another Ursula Todd is born with a piercing wail. The rest of the book follows Ursula's unique life cycle from death to life and back again, as WWII approaches. Bonus: Atkinson's novel is packed with literary references that serious literary types will appreciate. More info →
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Their Eyes Were Watching God

Their Eyes Were Watching God

Follow Janie Crawford as she experiences love and loss over the course of her life in 1920s Florida. Known as Hurston's best work, this story about expectations, marriage, and unexpected love is richly atmospheric. A classic for a reason, with a main character you'll never forget. In fact, echoes of Janie Crawford can be seen in contemporary literature, like Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward. I highly recommend listening to the audiobook version, narrated by Ruby Dee, to fully experience Hurston's talent for writing dialect. More info →
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David Copperfield

David Copperfield

Author:
This is the novel Dickens regarded as his "favourite child" and is considered his most autobiographical. As David recounts his experiences from childhood to the discovery of his vocation as a successful novelist, Dickens draws openly and revealingly on his own life. Among the gloriously vivid cast of characters are Rosa Dartle, Dora, Steerforth, and the 'umble Uriah Heep, along with Mr. Micawber, a portrait of Dickens's own father that evokes a mixture of love, nostalgia, and guilt. More info →
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A Piece of the World: A Novel

A Piece of the World: A Novel

The author's working title (and desired title) for this work was Christina's World, named after the Andrew Wyeth painting so many of us fell in love with the first time we laid eyes on it. In this biographical novel, Kline upends the narrative, telling the story from the perspective of the portrait's subject, "middle-aged" spinster Christina Olson. A previous Modern Mrs. Darcy Book Club pick from the author of Orphan Train. Thought-provoking and extremely discussable. More info →
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The Count of Monte Cristo

The Count of Monte Cristo

Author:
I thought this was a dry, dusty classic, but it's actually a well-loved tale of swashbuckling and revenge. Meredith surprised me by raving about this on episode 11 of What Should I Read Next, because it was never on my radar as an exciting read. Since then I've discovered lots of her fellow readers who adore it. If you're looking for an extra long book, readers describe it as a darn good story, about a man thrown into prison for a crime he didn't commit and his quest for retribution. More info →
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Kitchens of the Great Midwest: A Novel

Kitchens of the Great Midwest: A Novel

Author:
Our February book selection for the Modern Mrs Darcy Book Club! Last year, I loved listening to Stradal's second novel, The Lager Queen of Minnesota, so I thought I'd enjoy his debut in this audio format, too, as narrated by Amy Ryan and Michael Stuhlbarg. Please, I beg you, don’t read the jacket copy! I enjoyed it more by not knowing very much going into it. Stradal’s novel-in-stories spans more than thirty years and takes us to half as many kitchens, introducing us to fancy chefs and Lutheran church ladies, portraying the food of a region and the unlikely threads that bind us, with a satisfying, full-circle ending. More info →
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Pachinko

Pachinko

Author:
"We cannot help but be interested in the stories of people that history pushes aside so thoughtlessly." An unputdownable novel tracing four generations of a 20th-century Korean family back to the time when Japan annexed the country in 1910, affecting the fates of all. Lee portrays the family's struggles against the backdrop of cultural and political unrest, as they endure fierce discrimination at the hands of the Japanese. Operatic and sprawling, every decision has a reverberating consequence in this compelling portrait of a little-explored period of history. More info →
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The Shoemaker’s Wife

The Shoemaker’s Wife

In this sweeping family saga, Trigiani's descriptive writing makes you feel you're right there as two star-crossed lovers travel from a small town in the Italian Alps to Little Italy in New York City, neither knowing the other has made the journey. Trigiani's multi-generational saga spans two families, two continents, two world wars, and nearly five hundred pages. This is on my TBR because trusted readers say the story is so absorbing the pages fly by as you follow the characters across continents and centuries. More info →
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The Last Romantics

The Last Romantics

Author:
I love a story within a story: this novel begins with Fiona Skinner, renowned poet, revealing the story behind one of her famous poems—which leads to the tale of herself and her siblings. Early tragedy forged a strong bond between the four Skinner children, but it also broke them in ways that don’t become apparent for many years. Decades later, another unfolding tragedy makes them question everything they know about their family. The story feels Intimate, yet expansive, while exploring the power of stories, and the bonds that keep us together. More info →
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Ask Again, Yes

Ask Again, Yes

Author:
When two rookie cops who meet at the NYC Police Academy strike up a friendship, it sets in motion a tragic chain of events that echo through the decades, through the lives of their children and their children’s children. I found this book exceptionally difficult to read—it’s depressing and dark and triggers abound—yet I was eager to find out what would happen next to these doomed families, and the astonishing developments of the last 75 pages vaulted this to my best-of-the-year list. A poignant story of grace, forgiveness, and redemption, for fans of Atonement and Little Fires Everywhere. More info →
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Daughter of Fortune

Daughter of Fortune

Author:
Orphaned at a young age and raised by a Victorian spinster and her brother in Valparaíso, Chile—Eliza Sommers falls in love with Joaquín Andieta against her family's wishes. When Joaquín disappears during the Gold Rush, Eliza leaves Chile to search for him. Her dangerous adventure results in newfound freedom and love she never expected, with plenty of history, drama, and intriguing characters along the way. Written in 1998, this sweeping novel is seamlessly translated by Margaret Sayers Peded. Although this novel stands on its own, readers may be interested in Allende's related works: the sequel, A Portrait in Sepia, and The House of the Spirits. More info →
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The Island of Sea Women

The Island of Sea Women

Author:
See spins a tale of female friendship spanning eighty years, set against the backdrop of history in an incredible setting—the very real South Korean island of Jeju. On Jeju, women are the breadwinners, making their families’ livings by free-diving into the chilly waters of the Pacific Ocean, harvesting seafood to sell, while the husbands stay home with the children. This tradition has gone on for thousands of years, and we see it lived out in the lives of Young-sook Mi-ja. The two girls become fast friends as seven-year-olds in 1938, but their respective marriages take them down different paths, and bring unforeseen tensions into their relationship. A rewarding story of strong women, little-known history, and human resilience. More info →
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The Lost Queen: A Novel

The Lost Queen: A Novel

Author:
The "lost queen" is Languoreth, a real sixth century Scottish queen whose twin brother inspired the legend of Merlin. Ancient Scotland is the perfect setting for a fantasy novel. Ancient magic, complex politics, and clashing religions all conspire to create an intriguing story. Reminiscent of the Arthurian legends, this book is perfect for fans of Phillippa Gregory. I loved following Languoreth from girlhood and onward as she experiences love, loss, and the weight of responsibility. Note: this fantasy novel works well on audio; I especially appreciated hearing the pronunciation of the Ancient Scottish names and places, as read by Toni Frutin. More info →
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The Ten Thousand Doors of January

The Ten Thousand Doors of January

Author:
I recommended this on an episode of WSIRN: episode 196 with Anudeep Reddy as a gateway fantasy—a fantasy novel for people who think they don't like fantasy. This is a literary mystery, a book about books, coming-of-age story, a tale of adventure and suspense and revenge, with tattoo artistry as a main theme. And, of course, it tracks a character over many years and across many lands and secret worlds accessible to only a few. This was creative and inventive and lots of fun. The narration by January LaVoy (yes, you read that right!) is mesmerizing. More info →
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The Dutch House: A Novel

The Dutch House: A Novel

Author:
I love sibling stories and meaty family sagas, as well as stories told with a reflective, wistful tone. This one delivers on all counts. Cyril Conroy means to surprise his wife with the Dutch House, a grand old mansion outside of Philadelphia. But a symbol of wealth and success for some is a symbol of greed and excess to others—including, crucially, Cyril's wife—and the family falls apart over the purchase. In alternating timelines, we get the whole story, over five decades, from Cyril's son Danny. (If you want to hear the incredible story of how Kate DiCamillo wrote the perfect final paragraph without reading the book, you must listen to this episode of What Should I Read Next!) More info →
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The Most Fun We Ever Had

The Most Fun We Ever Had

Author:
At first, I was intimidated by the length, but when a friend assured me it doesn't drag and that Lombardo's authorial voice is gold, I picked it right up and read it in three days (and it's a 500-pager, so that's saying something!) This is the story of a married couple and their four grown daughters. In the opening pages, one daughter reveals a huge family secret, and the novel tracks what happens in the next year of every family member's life. Listen to me discuss this book further in Episode 206 of What Should I Read Next, called "How to bypass the book hangover." More info →
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The Dearly Beloved: A Novel

The Dearly Beloved: A Novel

Author:
A compelling premise and graceful telling landed this one on my favorites list. Charles and Lily meet James and Nan in 1963 Greenwich Village when Charles and James are both called to serve Third Presbyterian Church. The two men steward the church through upheaval and change, despite their personal differences. I couldn't stop reading as the couples and their families struggle with faith and friendship. More info →
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The Vanishing Half

The Vanishing Half

Author:
Identical twins Desiree and Stella grew up in a town so small it doesn't appear on maps. They're closer than close, so Desiree is shocked when Stella vanishes one night after deciding to sacrifice her past—and her relationship with her family—in order to marry a white man, who doesn't know she's black. Desiree never expects to see her sister again. The twins grow up, make lives for themselves, and raise daughters—and it's those daughters who bring the sisters together again. It's a reunion Stella both longs for and fears, because she can't reveal the truth without admitting her whole life is a lie. Bennett expertly weaves themes of family, race, identity, and belonging into one juicy, unputdownable novel spanning five turbulent decades. More info →
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Red at the Bone

Red at the Bone

This novel follow characters over decades and examines generations of a specific family, but it isn't linear. In her poetic voice, Woodson crafts a narrative that spans years and years but keeps the reader in the moment. The book opens with a special coming-of-age ceremony. Melody enters the room in her grandparents' Brooklyn home wearing the same dress her mother wore sixteen years ago. From there, Woodson weaves Melody and her mother's stories together in a lyrical novel about legacy, parenthood, ambition and desire. For a completely immersive experience, listen to this one on audio. Bahni Turpin is among a full cast of narrators who bring the family to life. More info →
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Actress

Actress

Author:
This reflective and often pained retrospective examines a complex mother-daughter relationship. Daughter Norah's musings are prompted by a graduate student who comes calling, seeking insight into the life of her mother, the brilliant Irish actress Katherine O'Dell. The style is almost—but not quite—stream of consciousness, as Norah examines her mother's early years as an actress, her sudden and enduring fame, and then her encroaching mental illness. I loved this book for its voice: Norah is a remarkable narrator of her mother's story, and I loved the sly way she lets her own story slip into the frame. More info →
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Which characters do you wish you could read about forever? Do you have any books to add to this list? Let us know in the comments section!

P.S. For more sweeping stories, try these 25 family sagas or 20 terrific tomes.

25 expansive stories that follow a character across decades

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164 comments | Comment

164 comments

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  1. Sarah says:

    The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert is another one that falls into this category. I read it last year and am still thinking about it!

  2. Randi says:

    A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
    Currently reading this incredible novel. I couldn’t bring myself to read it when it came out in 2015 after reading reviews and comments about it. I’m a sensitive reader and characters and events in books stay with me long after I’ve put them down. But my sister and I started a pandemic reading club just between the two of us and we she told me that was our next pick I dove in knowing I had her support and ear when the reading got tough. I’m now 50% in and although it may be one of the most heart-wrenching books I’ve ever read it is worth every single word.

  3. Emily says:

    My favorites in this category are The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid and City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert!

  4. LynnS. says:

    I love so many on this list! Another old favorite that would fit this theme is A Lantern in her Hand by Bess Streeter Aldrich. It follows Abby Deal from childhood through decades of homesteading in Nebraska.

  5. Ama says:

    I’d add A hundred years of solitud by Gabriel García Marquez. It was the first book that came to mi d when I read the title of your blog post. It’s my favourite book of all times and I read it once or twice a year!

    • St says:

      I finished that one really last year. I had to give myself permission to not always remember who was who, then I just enjoyed the peor and philosophy and merry go round of the story.

  6. Natalie says:

    This is probably my favourite type of book!

    Some I would add to this are:
    The Heart’s Invisible Furies
    A Gentleman in Moscow
    The Seven or Eight Deaths of Stella Fortuna
    The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo

    All of these (particularly the top 1) are character led and follow the main character through their life.

    The Heart’s Invisible Furies is just excellent – one of my favourites!

  7. Janneke says:

    I’d add The Heart’s Invisible Furie, one of my all-time favorites, to this list as well! A great option for lovers of A Little Life, albeit a less traumatic read (although I also loved A Little Life).

  8. Maria Ontiveros says:

    This list has three of my favorite books: Cutting for Stone (all time favorite of our book group); Ask Again Yes; and Island of Sea Women. Two books I would add to the list are East of Eden and Angle of Repose.

  9. AnnaMarie Sansonetti says:

    I listened to Anna Karenina several years ago and loved it. In fact I think it’s time to buy a copy and read it again.

  10. Beth says:

    The Hearts Invisible Furies by John Boyne was a book I couldn’t wait to finish but was so sad when I did. I really missed Cyril when it was over.

  11. Margie says:

    I had just downloaded Cutting for Stone before seeing this post – looking forward to it. Some life stories I enjoyed are Forty Rooms by Olga Grushin, Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk by Kathleen Rooney, and The Years by Annie Erneaux. Circe and Achilles by Madeline Miller also take you through the life of their characters.

  12. Kara says:

    I loved, loved, loved Red at the Bone! Actually, I loved several of the books on your list!

    Books that cover decades, or even multiple generations, allow for so much character development and context. You may not always like the choices that characters make, but you have a much better understanding of why they do what they do!

    Ilsa by Madeleine L’Engle is another book that fits this category.

  13. Becky S says:

    I agree with so many of these! The Shoemaker’s Wife I thought of right away- one of the most touching books I’ve ever read.
    Also want to add Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner. Fantastic story of two couples and their families through many years and life changes.

  14. Cynthia Seymour says:

    I love this list! I’m seeing so many books that I love. And many for my TBR. I would add How Green Was My Valley, by Richard Llewellyn, one of my all-time favorites. Also Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Quartet.

  15. Rada Foote says:

    My Dear Hamilton: A Novel of Eliza Schuyler Hamilton by Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie is a book befitting of this prompt. It has all the feels. Swoon worthy! Totally changed my view of some historical figures, and if I can give it any more praise the best book I read last year.

    • Kiley says:

      YES!!! I couldn’t read My Dear Mr. Hamilton fast enough and then was so sad when it was finished!! And it definitely has thrown me down the historical fiction road on my current reads!

  16. Cathy R. says:

    Great list! I would add “Lonesome Dove”. I read (listened) to it last year based on your recommendation and even though it was 800+ pages, I wished it would never end!

  17. Nancy says:

    Great post. These are the type of books that stay with you forever.
    I would add these four: Moloka’i by Alan Brennert, A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara, The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett, and The History of Love by Nicole Krauss. In my opinion, The History of Love is one of the most underrated novels of all time.

  18. Julie Blauwkamp says:

    i loved “Snowflower and the Secret Fan” by Lisa See. It spans the lifetime friendship of two girls in 18th or 19th century China and how a misperception from one of the girls about the other had lifetime, lasting repercussions. The reader learns the truth about the characters along with the narrator which adds for lots of “whoa- i didn’t see that coming moments.” The books also depicts the reality of Chinese girls and women during this period where bound feet and a proper marriage match were vital for survival. Beautifully written- one of my all time favorite novels!

    • Janelle Carlson says:

      Julie, Snowflower was my first Lisa See and remains my most loved of hers. Beautifully written and absolutely fascinating!

  19. Elizabeth Whittaker says:

    I have enjoyed reading everything by Adriana Trigiani but The Shoemaker’s Wife is my favorite. The love story between Enza and Ciro captivates you and just won’t turn loose.

  20. Rada Foote says:

    More recommendations for this post are
    Memoirs of Cleopatra by Margaret George
    The Professor and the Madman: A Take of Murder, Insanity and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary. By Simon Winchester
    An American Princess by Annejet van der Zijl, Michelle Hutchison

  21. Danell V says:

    The Thorn Birds! I love that book. And I agree with many of you on A Little Life. Some of my favorites: The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman; Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstance by Ruth Emmie Lang; The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern; The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger; and Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides.
    Also want to mention all the books by Edward Rutherfurd, though those are more multiple generations rather than decades.

  22. Adrienne says:

    What a fantastic list, and so many great recommendations in the comments! My suggested book for this category is “The Invention of Wings” by Sue Monk Kidd, which tells the stories of Sarah Grimke and her slave Hetty, aka “Handful”, over many years. The audio version is superb!

  23. Pam says:

    Years ago I read And Ladies of the Club, a novel, written by Helen Hooven Santmyer. It focused on to friends from their teens until their deaths, and the families, friends, and town. One can’t help but to be caught up in their stories. I highly recommend this book.

    • christina says:

      Yes, And Ladies.. is my all time favorite. I was just reading the comments to see if anyone agreed it should be on the list. The characters are well developed and the changing themes are reflective of the extraordinary time.

  24. Mary Ann says:

    Wow, this is exactly my sweet spot when it comes to books I love to read. It was fun to read through the list and see how many books I have already read and those titles resting on my TBR list. I will restrain myself here and add only a few more titles to the list: The Murmur of Bees by Sofía Segovia, I Know This Much Is True by Wally Lamb, Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset, The Art of Hearing Heartbeats by Jan-Philippine Sendker, A Long Petal of the Sea by Isabel Allende and The Fountains of Silence by Ruta Sepetys. Alright maybe that was more than just a few, but I apparently couldn’t help myself!

  25. Natalie Mills says:

    I loved Ask Again, Yes from this list and one that wasn’t included is The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab which follows Addie’s life over centuries (not just decades)! It flips back and forth between time periods, but stayed with me long after I finished reading.

  26. Jackie says:

    “The Physician” by Noah Gordon fits this category. It’s about a young orphaned boy in Medieval England who’s taken in by a traveling medicine man. As he reaches adulthood, he goes on to learn his trade by studying medicine in ancient Persia. I haven’t ready the other two books in this trilogy yet, but I believe they follow similar themes in more recent history.

  27. Marjorie Krahn says:

    Howard Fast’s “The Immigrant” series. A compelling story of immigrants in San Francisco. There are 6 books in the series and once I read the first one, I devoured the rest. That was 35 years ago and I still think of that series often. Well worth the read!!!

  28. Michelle Y says:

    I loved Ken Follett’s Century trilogy – three beefy novels each following five different families in different countries during the different world wars (WWI, WWII and the Cold War). The second books follows the children of those we got to know from the first, and the third the children of the second, so each family stays with us until the end, probably nearly 3000 pages later! Great reads, and a great way to learn about history, lest we forget.

    • Jayne says:

      Oh my goodnesss… Absolutely awesome books. The details of the family lives in different countries, social standings, and life styles are so beautiful portrayed. A must read if you haven’t already! LOVE these books!

  29. Jenni says:

    I love Anne’s book lists. I always see books I’ve read, books I’ve heard about and now want to read, and books I’m being introduced to for the first time. I walk away with a TBR list happy and content. And then I read the comments, Oh why do I have to read the comments! 🙂 Now all of a sudden my TBR list explodes with all the wonderful recommendations. And off I go to my public library website to see how many of these books I can find. Thank you for the great list Anne and thank you ladies for all the other recommendations!

  30. Nanette Stearns says:

    Such a great topic! I love Kate Morton’s books for these reasons. The Heart’s Invisible Furies, Gentleman in Moscow, and Cutting for Stone are also lifetime favorites. Great to see so many favorites on the list, and to see some that I haven’t read yet.

  31. Karen Artt says:

    Love this list and cannot wait to dig in to some of these. Cutting for Stone is one of my all time favorites and Anne says it best- it starts slow, but it is worth every page it takes to get into it! I would add Cane River by Lalita Tademy – I loved reading the story so much and milked the last pages because I did not want it to end.

  32. Dana Robison says:

    My ever favorite saga that covers generations is And Ladies of the Club, by Helen Hooven Santmyer. It follows a group of ladies who begin as a study group and evolve into a service organization. Anne and Sally, the lead characters, are introduced when they are little girls admiring their mothers and those in the group. They grow up to be the ‘leaders’ of the group, taking it into new decades with new purpose. Anne and Sally are the main characters, but Santmyer keeps all the characters involved.
    Its hefty at 1100+ pages. All the better. These women are my dear friends I still think about when I see them on my bookshelf.
    I highly recommend.

  33. Melissa Feenane says:

    Absolutely agree with David Copperfield! It was the first one that came to mind when I saw the title of today’s post. I would also add A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and Little Women.

  34. Eva says:

    Great list! I would add Greenwood by Michael Christie. It’s also new in paperback this week in the US I believe. It was a stunning novel covering many decades and the characters will stay with you at the end. @pomoevareads

  35. Kathy LeBlanc says:

    I love this list. I have a favourite to add, The Clifton Chronicles series, by Jeffrey Archer. the characters have stayed with me, I think about them often

  36. Laura says:

    I agree that Life After Life is worth the extra effort to figure out where the author is going with the story – because once you do, it is a story that is beautifully told and not like many others that I have read. If you like this book, I also suggest Kate Atkinson’s A God In Ruins, which is tells the story of Ursula’s brother Todd. Certain passages were both beautiful and heartbreaking, and I read them over and over.

    Another book that follows a character, his descendants, and others connected to them is Colum McCann’s This Side of Brightness. Again – a lot of heartbreak! it starts with a tragic explosion as workers dig the tunnel that will connect the subway from Brooklyn to Manhattan and follows how the accident and the connections it forges impacts three generations of New Yorkers. It is a raw book and not easy to read, but it is still a favorite of mine.

  37. Leigh says:

    Kane and Abel by Jeffrey Archer. A forty year old novel that I can still remember where I was and the tears I shed when I read the last word. Still my favorite book of all time even after all those years.

  38. Aimee says:

    Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk; Miss Cecily’s Recipes for Exceptional Ladies; The Giver of Stars; 84 Charing Cross Road; All the Light We Cannot See; Nobody Will Tell You This But Me; Miss Benson’s Beetle; The Weight of Ink (more like centuries rather than decades alone but fabulous book); I’ll Be Your Blue Sky; The Stationery Shop

    Okay, I’ll stop but SO MANY good ones!!

  39. nancy says:

    Wendell Berry is a great writer about people in the town of Port William, Ky. (Imaginary place) Many of the characters reappear through the years. Jayber Crow is a good place to start in these finely drawn portraits of people and events.

    • Jessica H says:

      Yes! Jayber Crow was my introduction to Wendell Berry and is still one of my favorite books (and my husband’s!)–we have given it as a gift so many times that we always seem to have an extra copy lying around to give as a gift.
      I would second the suggestions for Anna Karenina, East of Eden, & Little Women, and also add Dicken’s Bleak House to the list–its character development is incredible and the story gripping.

  40. Tami Spence says:

    I’m so thankful to open emails and see you in my inbox! I savor each email! I just finished Kristin Hannah’s new novel The Four Seasons. Main character is Elsa. I needed more. Decades of family trauma. Had me thinking about depression on a whole new level and reading about the dust bowl for the first time ever.

    • Lind says:

      Me too. I also watched the movie Grapes of Wrath . I am British but I feel very interested to learn more about this man made tragedy. The treatment of the okies is so similar to today’s treatment of rather South American immigrants. Heartbreaking.

  41. Barb Abbott says:

    I have read five of the books on this list and loved them.
    I would like to read more about Kat’s story from The Nature of Fragile Things.

  42. Suzy says:

    To the other excellent suggestions, I would add:
    A Spool of Blue Thread, by Anne Tyler
    Ivan Doig’s Montana homesteading series, starting with Dancing at the Rascal Fair–3 generations, I think.
    Jeannette Walls’ two memoirs, The Glass Castle and Half-Broke Horses.
    And The Poldark series by Winston Graham! That one REALLY draws you in!

  43. Sarah says:

    I either hot (East of Eden, Count of Monte Cristo, Jane Eyre) or cold (The Vanishing Half, Kristin Lavransdatter (mixed: love everyone but the title character!), Gone with the Wind) on this category. With that in mind, two I would recommend are I, Claudius by Robert Graves and Vanity Fair by Thackeray.

    I, Claudius follows the journey of Claudius from a disabled, and under-estimated youth through to his unintentional rise to the emperor, I read it years ago when I was taking Latin in high school, and there is a lot of juicy details about all the wild machinations and politics of ancient Rome. I never did end up reading the sequel, though.

    Vanity Fair fits with my love of period drama, and there is plenty of drama, but also a fair bit of sly humor in the pages.

  44. Suzy says:

    OH, I forgot, if you liked The Shoemaker’s Wife, don’t miss out on that same author’s 3 part Valentine series, about another shoemaker!

  45. Elisabeth says:

    The Thorn Birds! One of the few books I have reread! I really don’t like cheesy romance novels either and would never put this book in that category!

  46. Ann says:

    Excellent list! I have read several of these and strongly vouch for them. I am happy to see the classic Jane Eyre included. I have to say, I am so bothered by “remakes,” & retelling of this. They never do it justice. The Wife Upstairs is a recent awful example. There ought to be a law against these copycats that fall short & can never live up to the wonderful classic. Mexican Gothic was another one that threw around this reference. No comparison & the comparison should not be allowed! I was reading The Hundred Year Old Man. but did not finish it, I could easily go back to it. The Dutch House was good. I think my favorite Ann Patchett was State of Wonder. A really gripping tale! I’ve finally just read Toni Morrison’s haunting The Bluest Eye. Hard to read parts, but the characters were amazing. Partly charming and quaint & revolting in turn. The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Czech author Milan Kundera is a good one. I am taking note of all the great books in the comments!!!!!!! So many awesome books to read. I am picking up Shuggie Bain from my local library today. My BOTM order is slower than usual due to the Arctic Chill; so I can squeeze something else in while I wait for The Four Winds & Send For Me. Sorry, I will stop now: I get carried away!!!! Happy reading all!

  47. Shari says:

    ‘A Little Life’ definitely belongs on this list. Such a moving, challenging read. Also ‘I Know This Much Is True’, by Wally Lamb. ‘Cloudstreet’ by Tim Winton is an Aussie classic beautifully written, following the lives of two families with one home in common. I would also HIGHLY recommend ‘The Brothers K’. Thank you for this list! This is probably my favourite genre so I will be adding ALL the titles from your list I haven’t already read to my TBR for pile x

  48. Sharon says:

    This must be the “genre” I love most, because I have read a majority of the books on this list and they are high on my list of books I would recommend to others. Now I have a few more to add to my TBR.

  49. Jacqueline Seybold says:

    A Long Petal of the Sea by Isabel Allende
    The Murmur of Bees by Sofia Segovia
    This Tender Land by William Kent Krueger
    Beneath a Scarlet Sky Mark T Sullivan

  50. I would add The Stone Diaries to this list–it’s an old Pulitzer Prize winner that’s rarely talked about, but I really enjoyed it (plus it’s the type of novel that I’m just obsessed with right now, which is one that’s basically about an “ordinary” life, a la A Tree Grows in Brooklyn).

  51. Ooooh, some of my favourites here! I loved Allan from The One Hundred Year Old Man, and David Copperfield… Right now, I’m reading A Little Life, and even though it’s a tough and often heart-wrenching read, it’s wonderful to spend so much time with Jude and his friends and get to know them so intimately.

  52. Molly says:

    This is a great list, and the comments have also given me tons of terrific titles to read this year. My favorite books in this category have to be The People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks, Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton, and So Big by Edna Ferber. They are each so beautifully written, and a little painful to read. I think So Big was my favorite book of 2020.

  53. Karen Floyd Shepherd says:

    Great recommendations! Thank you. I would suggest The Song of the Lark by Willa Cather. And The Kitchen God’s Wife and The Bonesetter’s Daughter by Amy Tan. Tan’s books range backward and forward in time, and there are triggers.

  54. Annette says:

    I just finished re-reading the Cazalet Saga by Elizabeth Jane Howard. It follows a British family and their servants from 1937 to 1957, covering all the changes that the war brings especially for women – a bit like Downton Abbey, only twenty years later. So many great stories – I am so reluctant to leave these characters that I haven‘t started another book yet.

  55. Irene says:

    Another series that spans decades is by Dana Fuller Ross, the Great West series. I am on book 17 of, I believe, 25. While they are fiction and older, they do depict our country’s youth from the wagon trains on and do a very good job tying characters through the books.

  56. Emma says:

    Pleased to see Pachinko on there. That’s the one that immediately sprang to mind. Also enjoyed City of Girls. I really like Elizabeth Jane Howard’s Cazelet Chronicles – the ultimate multi generational story across the years.

  57. Lauren W. says:

    I loved The Dutch House, and was surprised and excited to see The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared on the list… I read it years ago and thought it was hilarious and quirky! I think the first book/s that come to mind when I think of following a character over decades is the Outlander series. I adore Claire!

  58. Caroline Lepiane says:

    Oh no! More books to add to my TBR!! I also think The Seven Husbands of Eleanor Hugo would fit in. Cutting for Stone is one of my all time favorites!

  59. Beth Dean says:

    So many of my favorites are on this list! I would add A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles, A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth, and . . .And Ladies of the Club by Helen Hooven Santmyer.

  60. Erica says:

    The Versions of Us by Laura Barnett. It follows three different versions of the same couple over decades.
    Also The Twelve Tribes of Hattie by Aylah Mathis.

  61. Jamie Freeman says:

    This is a series, but The Clifton Chronicles by Jeffrey Archer are PERFECT for this. The first is Only Time Will Tell.

  62. shannon kozubik says:

    Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset
    Epic story that follows Kristin from childhood all the way through the end of her life. Set in medieval Norway with an awesome love story and family drama along with paganism and how it relates to the new Christianity that is taking hold.

  63. Amy LaRoy says:

    “The Most Fun We Ever Had” may go down as one of my favorites of all time. What a wonderful tribute to long life, long marriage, and the ties that bind a family together. I could definitely reread!

  64. Amy LaRoy says:

    “The Most Fun We Ever Had” is now an all time favorite! I made my mom and sister read it also, and they loved it just as much! Did you catch the symbolism of the Ginkgo tree, which is the type of leaf on the cover? In Hiroshima, 6 ginkgo trees were among the few living things to survive the blast. It is described as “deep rooted, and resistant to wind and snow damage”. Young trees are sparsely branched and become broader with age. AND…spoiler alert…. what was Mr. Sorensen doing when he had his heart attack???? – trimming the Ginkgo tree!

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