Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese: 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. There are some difficult scenes, and it starts slowly—but it’s worth sticking with it. I read this at the beginning of 2011 as part of my local library’s book club.
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith: If you’re new to this novel, brace yourself: Francie Nolan is about to win you over. Her Irish Catholic family is struggling to stay afloat in the Brooklyn slums, in the midst of great change at the turn of the century, while her charismatic but doomed father is literally drinking himself to death. But Francie is young, sensitive, imaginative, and determined to make a life for herself. A moving story of unlikely beauty and resilience, wistful, satisfying, and heart-wrenching. I first mentioned this in April 2010 and then again in January 2018.
The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough: 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. Read it and decide for yourself. I first mentioned The Thorn Birds here and here in April 2016.
Ask Again, Yes by Mary Beth Keane: 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 puts this on my best-of-2020 list. A poignant story of grace, forgiveness, and redemption. I received this for Christmas and mentioned it here and here.