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Chapter 33 - The Family


“All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” This is the way Tolstoy starts his wonderful book Anna Karenina which is mostly a book about families. I thought of this recently as we had our family here for a visit. We are fortunate that, by and large, we are a happy family. Sure there are speed bumps along the way - dealing with aging parents, our own children struggling with teenagers, political differences, and all of us not voicing expectations when we should. Still we enjoy each other's company and relish the times we get to spend with any and all of our family members.

Unhappy families make for better stories though. Friction creates good fiction and who better to have friction with than your own family members. Often they are people we would never choose to be with otherwise. There are many authors who have written terrific and honest books about families both fiction and non-fiction. Below is a sample of some novels about families I have enjoyed.

The Silver Star by Jeannette Walls - This novel by Walls (author of The Glass Castle) starts out in 1970's California where Bean and her older sister have been abandoned by their "artistic" mother. Having only enough money to last a month they decide to take a bus to Virginia where their widowed Uncle Tinsley lives. As they come to know him and the town where their mother grew up, they become clearer about their own identities and the family they have chosen to become.

The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd - Set in South Carolina in 1964 Lily has only a vague memory of the day her mother was killed. When Rosaleen, her black "stand-in" mother, insults three of the biggest racists in town, Lily and Rosaleen take off to a small town where three eccentric bee-keepers take them under wing. A great book for thinking about who is family.

Big Stone Gap by Adriana Trigiani - In the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, Ave Maria Mulligan is a 35 year old pharmacist who is pretty sure there is no romance in the town much less in her own life. Add this quirky spinster to a fine cast of unusual characters and you'll see that often family is who we make it especially when you find out you are not who you thought you were.

Roots: The Saga of an American Family by Alex Haley - At over 700 pages this is not a quick read but it is an important one. First published in 1977 it tells the story of Kunta Kinte and the six generations who came after him. The story goes from Africa to the deep South, from slaves to freemen and is partially based on Haley's own family and stories he heard from his grandmother.

A Land More Kind Than Home by Wiley Cash - Wiley Cash is a local author (North Carolina) and this novel is one of his best. A Land More Kind Than Home tells the story of two brothers in North Carolina's western mountains who are confronted with evil in a small town. It is a tale of bravery, compassion, and brotherhood.

Are there any books about families that you'd like to share?

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