Thursday, June 13, 2013

Reading Lists - Parallel Narratives

Recently I’ve noticed a trend in women’s fiction toward “parallel narratives.” These are novels that contain two different storylines, usually separated by time and even place, but that somehow relate to each other. Some involve different generations of the same family. Some involve different residents of the same house. Some have a more subtle connection. Whatever the case, the parallel narratives add a wonderful complexity to each character’s story. I, for one, hope this trend continues.

The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff
The story of Ann Eliza Young's crusade against polygamy interwines with a tale of murder involving a polygamist family in present-day Utah.

The Ashford Affair by Lauren Willig
Feeling unfulfilled in the face of an imminent legal partnership and a broken engagement, Manhattan lawyer Clementine Evans learns of a long-buried family secret that leads her to the inner circles of World War I British society and the red hills of Kenya.

Blackberry Winter by Sarah Jio
Seattle, 1933. Vera Ray kisses her 3-year-old son, Daniel, good night and leaves for work. In the morning, though it's May 2--a heavy snow is falling and Daniel's bed is empty. Seattle, present day. On May 2, reporter Claire Aldridge awakens to another late-season snowstorm. Assigned to cover this "blackberry winter" and its predecessor decades earlier, Claire learns of Daniel's unsolved abduction and vows to unearth the truth.

The Bungalow by Sarah Jio
In the summer of 1942, Anne sets off to serve in the Army Nurse Corps in Bora-Bora. She is drawn to a soldier named Westry, and the two share a private world until they witness a crime, Westry is redeployed, and the idyll vanishes into the winds of war. The Bungalow chronicles Anne's determination to discover the truth about the twin losses--of life, and of love--that have haunted her for 70 years.

The Chemistry of Tears by Peter Carey
When Catherine Gehrig's married lover dies suddenly she is grief-stricken. To help distract her from her pain, she is given a project at work which requires her to research and put together a nineteenth century mechanical automaton originally built in Germany. Catherine gets more and more involved in the past as she learns about the Englishman, Henry Brandling, who commissioned the magical automaton for his consumptive son.

The Distant Hours by Kate Morton
A long-lost letter arriving at its destination fifty years after it was sent lures Edie Burchill to crumbling Milderhurst Castle, home of the three elderly Blythe sisters, where Edie's mother was sent to stay as a teenager during World War II.

The Dream of Scipio by Iain Pears
An ancient manuscript called "The Dream of Scipio" links three separate centuries—the 5th, the end of the Roman Empire; the 14th, the time of the Black Death; and the 20th during World War II—and three stories of love, all set in Provence.

Everything She Thought She Wanted by Elizabeth Buchan
Barbara, a married mother in 1959, and Siena, a career woman 40 years later, face the challenge of finding their happiness, each in her own way. This wise, witty novel weaves together the stories of these women, one with too many choices, one with too few.

The Firebird by Susanna Kearsley
A modern day woman with psychic abilities helps uncover the provenance of a small wooden carving, tracing it all the way back to eighteenth century Scotland and Russia.

The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton
Abandoned on a 1913 voyage to Australia, Nell is raised by a dock master and his wife who do not tell her until she is an adult that she is not their child, leading Nell to return to England and eventually hand down her quest for answers to her granddaughter.

Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café by Fannie Flagg
Mrs. Threadgoode's tale of two high-spirited women of the 1930s, Idgie and Ruth, helps Evelyn, a 1980s woman in a sad slump of middle age, to begin to rejuvenate her own life.

The Girl on the Cliff by Lucinda Riley
Grania Ryan returns home to Ireland and forms a close friendship with a young girl whose family history is intertwined with Grania's own.
The Hours by Michael Cunningham
The spirit of Virginia Woolf permeates the lives of several American readers as evidenced in this trio of tales about the author Woolf, a New Yorker planning a party to honor a writer, and a young mother reading Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway.

The House at Riverton by Kate Morton
Living out her final days in a nursing home, ninety-eight-year-old Grace remembers the secrets surrounding the 1924 suicide of a young poet during a glittering society party hosted by Grace's English aristocrat employers, a family that is shattered by war.

The House Girl by Tara Conklin
Lina Sparrow, an ambitious first-year associate in a Manhattan law firm, searches for the "perfect plaintiff" to lead a historic class-action lawsuit worth trillions of dollars in reparations for descendants of American slaves. She searches for a descendent of Josephine Bell, a house girl rumored to have been the actual artist of a series of stunning paintings credited to her white mistress.

I Gave My Heart to Know This by Ellen Baker
Decades after the women in her family and their friend are shattered by the losses of two beloved men during World War II, Julia is approached by her long-lost great-grandmother and untangles a dark secret.

The Island House by Posie Graeme-Evans
Visiting the ancient Scottish island of Findnar to investigate the unfinished work of her late archaeologist father, doctoral student Freya Dane discovers the story of an early ninth-century Pictish orphan who was forced to make a wrenching choice between her faith and the Viking she loved.

Juliet by Anne Fortier
Julie Jacobs inherits a key to a safety deposit box in Siena, Italy, and is told it will lead her to an old family treasure. Launched into a quest to discover the history of her ancestor Giulietta, Julie crosses paths with the descendants of the families involved in Shakespeare's unforgettable blood feud.

The Kashmir Shawl by Rosie Thomas
In 1941, newlywed Nerys Watkins accompanies her husband to a missionary posting in the exotic lakeside city of Srinagar, where she is swept up in a liaison that completely changes her life, a transformation that is explored by a descendant generations later.

Keeping the House by Ellen Baker
Lonely, restless, and bored with her life as a housewife in 1950s Pine Rapids, Wisconsin, Dolly Magnuson becomes fascinated by the abandoned grand old house on the hill overlooking the town and sets out to unravel the dark secrets of the family that had once owned it.

The Last Camellia by Sarah Jio
When garden designer Addison takes up residence at an old English manor, she stumbles upon a mystery dating back to World War II that involves the enchanting camellia orchard and an old gardener's notebook, which conceals a series of horrible crimes.

The Last Letter from Your Lover by Jojo Moyes
More than forty years after a car accident causes Jennifer Stirling to lose her memory on the day she planned to leave her husband for a mysterious lover, journalist Ellie becomes obsessed by the story and seeks the truth in the hopes of revitalizing her career.

The Lavender Garden by Lucinda Riley
After she inherits her childhood home, a magnificent chateau in Le Cote d'Azur, France, Emilie de la Martinieres realizes that it may hold secrets to her family's enigmatic past during World War II.

The Lost Hours by Karen White
When Piper Mills was twelve, she helped her grandfather bury a box that belonged to her grandmother in the backyard. For twelve years, it remained untouched. After her grandmother is sent away to a nursing home, she remembers the box buried in the backyard. In it are torn pages from a scrapbook, a charm necklace—and a newspaper article from 1939 about the body of an infant found floating in the Savannah River.

The Map of Love by Ahdaf Soueif
At the end of the twentieth century, Isabel Parkman, a divorced American journalist, journeys to Egypt to unravel the truth behind her ancestor, an English widow who, in 1901, fell in love with an Egyptian man.

Mary Coin by Marisa Silver
This novel imagines the lives of the subject of the photograph, photographer, and a college professor who finds a connection to a family legacy in the image of the iconic "Migrant Mother."

The Night Journal by Elizabeth Crook
Meg, the great-granddaughter of a southwestern frontierswoman, accompanies her grandmother to a family property that is being excavated and makes a discovery that challenges the authenticity of stories about her famous family's history.

On Folly Beach by Karen White
Janie Hamilton is a widow at age twenty-nine, having lost her husband in Afghanistan. Mired in grief, she's unable to move on until she comes across hidden love notes in a box of books purchased from the store Folly's Finds. Intrigued by what appears to be a clandestine love affair from the 1940s, Janie is prompted to move to Folly Beach, South Carolina, where she purchases the local bookstore.

The Piano Teacher by Janice Y. K. Lee
In 1942, Will Trusdale, an Englishman newly arrived in Hong Kong, has fallen into a passionate relationship with Trudy Liang, a beautiful Eurasian socialite. But when WWII strikes, Will is sent to an internment camp, while Trudy remains outside. Ten years later, Claire Pendleton comes to Hong Kong and meets the enigmatic Will. As long-buried secrets start to emerge, Claire learns that sometimes the price of survival is love.

Possession by A. S. Byatt
This is a tale of a pair of young scholars researching the lives of two Victorian poets. As they uncover their letters, journals, and poems, and track their movements from London to Yorkshire—from spiritualist séances to the fairy-haunted far west of Brittany—what emerges is an extraordinary counterpoint of passions and ideas.
The Red Queen by Margaret Drabble
Receiving the 200-year-old memoir of a Korean crown princess from an anonymous sender, Oxford student Barbara Halliwell reads about the princess's life and finds profound changes occurring within her present-day London home.

The Rossetti Letter by Christi Phillips
Fearing that her research will be rendered useless if a Cambridge professor proves his theory about 17th century Venetian courtesan Alessandra Rossetti, Ph.D. candidate Claire Donovan agrees to chaperone a troubled teen in order to gain passage to the professor's presentation in Venice. Alessandra and Claire experience intrigue, espionage, and romance in their own centuries.

Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay
On the sixtieth anniversary of the 1942 roundup of Jews by the French police in the Vel d'Hiv section of Paris, American journalist Julia Jarmond is asked to write an article on this dark episode during World War II and embarks on investigation that leads her to long-hidden family secrets and to the ordeal of Sarah, a young girl caught up in the raid.

The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton
Withdrawing from a family party to the solitude of her tree house, sixteen-year-old Laurel Nicolson witnesses a shocking murder that throughout a subsequent half century shapes her beliefs, her acting career, and the lives of three strangers from vastly different cultures.

Sepulchre by Kate Mosse
The stories of two women separated by more than a century are brought together by a series of visions that are related to the tarot and a small church, known as a Sepulchre in the grounds of the Domaine de la Cade.

Those Who Save Us by Jenna Blum
For 50 years, Anna Schlemmer has refused to talk about her life in Germany during World War II. Her daughter, Trudy, was only three when she and her mother were liberated by an American soldier and went to live with him in Minnesota. Trudy's sole evidence of the past is an old photograph; a family portrait showing Anna, Trudy, and a Nazi officer, the Obersturmfuumlehrer of Buchenwald.

Three Weeks in December by Audrey Schulman
Jeremy is an engineer who leaves small-town Maine in 1899 to oversee the construction of a railroad across East Africa, and finds himself the reluctant hunter of two lions killing his men in nightly attacks. Max is an American ethnobotanist who travels to Rwanda in 2000 in search of an obscure vine that could become a lifesaving pharmaceutical, but finds herself shadowing a family of gorillas threatened by a violent rebel group from nearby Congo.

The Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjalian
This novel relates parallel stories of a woman who falls in love with an Armenian soldier during the Armenian Genocide in Aleppo, Syria, in 1915 and a woman prompted to rediscover her Armenian past in Bronxville, New York, in 2012.

The Virgin Blue by Tracy Chevalier
As she investigates her ancestors, the Tournier family, Ella Turner is drawn back 500 years to the sixteenth century world of Isabelle du Moulin. She is haunted by Isabelle, a woman who was brutally persecuted under suspicion of practicing witchcraft. Ella's search uncovers a long-hidden tragedy and reveals the shocking fate of her ancestor.

Villa Triste by Lucretia Grindle
When two sisters are forced to make impossible decisions while living under the brutal Nazi occupation of Italy, their actions set off a chain of events that ultimately impact a murder investigation sixty years later.

Wildflower Hill by Kimberley Freeman
Emma, a prima ballerina in London, is at a crossroads after an injured knee ruins her career. Returning home to Australia, she learns of a strange inheritance from her grandmother Beattie: a sheep station in isolated Tasmania. Beattie also found herself at a crossroads as a young woman in Scotland, pregnant and unwed. She eventually found success—but only after following an unconventional path that was often dangerous and heartbreaking.

The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley
In 1708, an invading Jacobite fleet nearly succeeded in landing the exiled James Stewart in Scotland to reclaim his crown. Now, Carrie hopes to turn that story into her next bestselling novel. Settling herself in the shadow of Slains Castle, she creates a heroine named for one of her ancestors. But when she discovers her novel is more fact than fiction, she might be only living person who knows the truth of the ultimate betrayal that happened centuries ago.