by Amy Baxter, Editor
There is nothing quite as epic as the family history; no matter the length, you will always be in for an emotional roller-coaster. Here we've pulled together 10 of our favourite family histories for when you need that emotional binge with all the bells and whistles: romance, tragedy, reunification, these books have it all. As always, they're all written by Black, Asian, and racialised community authors.
In no particular order, we have:
Homegoing, Yaa Gyasi
Undeniably one of the greatest family histories of all time, Homegoing is a project so broad in its time period yet so minute in its character portrait that it can be described as nothing other than miraculous. It follows the family lines of sisters Effia and Esi: one sold into slavery; one a slave trader’s wife. I’ve not much more to say than I regret waiting so long to read it and that I encourage you to do so immediately.
Red at the Bone, Jacqueline Woodson
From the Sunday Times Bestselling author of An American Marriage comes what Tayari Jones labelled ‘an epic in miniature’. There is no better way to describe Woodson’s exquisite short novel, which unfurls the history of a young Melody’s family from post 9/11 New York all the way back to the 1921 Tulsa race massacre. There is no stone left unturned in this novel; it is truly a marvel that it is so short.
Lara, Bernardine Evaristo
Not your usual family history – this is a semi-autobiographical novel-in-verse from the Booker Prize Winning Bernardine Evaristo. The eponymous Lara is a mixed-race girl raised in the 1960s London suburbs, and we travel back over seven generations to trace Lara’s ancestry. Exploring Irish Catholics leaving rural hardship, German immigrants escaping poverty in the 19th century, colonial Nigeria, and post-war London, this is history as you’ve never read it before.
Segu, Maryse Conde, trns. Barbara Bray
Conde’s bestselling epic Segu hardly needs introduction. It is 1797, and the African kingdom of Segu is at the height of it’s power – but change is coming from both sides. It’s an epic in all senses of the word, yet feels as modern and lively as it did when first published in 1984. It is incredibly clear why she won the alternative Nobel prize for literature.
The Vanishing Half, Brit Bennett
Another 2020 book, The Vanishing Half is a vivid exploration of that often undiscussed phenomenon: passing. The Vignes twin sisters take two different routes with their racial identities – Bennett traces them and their daughters, from the Deep South in the 1950s, to California in the 1990s. A very different form of family history.
Burnt Sugar by Avni Doshi
You can read me wax lyrical about Burnt Sugar here, but to summarise, Doshi’s Booker Prize Longlisted debut is a terrifying look into the impact of betrayal, obsession, and Alzheimer’s. You can learn more about why Doshi chose such a terrible subject in our interview with her here. Not a book for the fainthearted, but an important one.
Wild Swans, Jung Chang
The copy for Wild Swans begins "Few books have had such an impact as Wild Swans" and it would be hard to disagree. 13 million copies later, this story of three generations of women in her own family, Jung Chang reveals the history of twentieth century China with unbelievable vivacity. A beautiful and heart-breaking book.
House of Stone, Novuyo Rosa Tshuma
House of Stone is one of the most awarded debuts of recent years. Tshuma’s writing is undoubtedly excellent; her novel follows the tumult as a family member goes missing. From an unreliable narrator to hidden family secrets, House of Stone is a deliciously voyeuristic take on family history.
Reproduction, Ian Williams
Perhaps this is cheating as it’s not quite out in the UK as of yet, but Reproduction is undoubtedly an exhilarating tale of family and relationships. As funny as it is moving, Williams tells the love story of Felicia and Edgar, and also of their son. A lighter take on family histories than some of these other suggestions.
And a bonus book...
Brown Baby, Nikesh Shukla
Meera Syal has already called this “a wise and wonderful book”, so really there’s no need for a hard sell from us. A bonus book as it isn’t out until February, Brown Baby is Shukla’s memoir about race, family, and home. You can read more about taking on the project, as well as his family and writing process in his feature interview with Bad Form here: