Genre: Historical Saga

Literary, Sagas, Christian and Biographical

“I learned that this genre provides an interesting lens to examine the hopes and fears of our past and present.” Jessica Atherton

1 Setting/Frame : Genuine if not completely accurate; escape into another time and place; learning about a different occupation/role than one’s own; relevance
2 Character: Authentic characters carry the story even with good world-building especially if characters are based on a real person. Experiencing a life that one would never have; through multiple viewpoints we learn of others experiences and other cultures
3 Writing Style/Language: More descriptive and lyrical than other genres; story telling ability is key
4 Tone or Mood: Sense of stepping into the past—strength of novel’s frame and storyline makes it an immersive experience. Readers want to feel the pull not just the dry details.
5 Storyline: Include the story of that time in the background of the character’s story; Good story brings history alive

Pace does not seem to be a great factor in determining choice for real Historical readers.

Approachable way to learn about history; can peak interest in nonfiction subject areas
Wide variety so determining what reader wants is paramount in this genre.

Thank you to Jessica Atherton; Stefanie Aucoin; Eileen Barrett; Michelle Deschene; Diane Giarusso; Nanci Milone Hill; Jan Resnick; Rebecca Rowlands; Christine Sharbrough; Sandra Woodbury

MLS RA Round Table  November 26, 2013, 9:45am to 12N                               Chelmsford Public Library, Chelmsford, MA

Minutes for each meeting:  As of the 11/13 meeting, we are going to  rotate taking the minutes alphabetically by your library or town (unless you are hosting the meeting) skipping to the next available library/town if it is your turn and you do not come to the meeting.  We will go back to you at the next meeting you attend.

Handouts:  “Sagas.” Johnson, Sarah L. Historical Fiction: A Guide to the Genre. Libraries Unlimited., 2005, p. 179-180.

(Previous handout [Saricks on Historical Fiction from The RA Guide to Genre Fiction (2009) p.290-311] was given to the group in both May 2010 & 2013)

Historical Family Sagas assignment for November 26, 2013: Benchmark:  Jeffrey Archer’s Only Time Will Tell: Clifton Chronicles; bk.1

Read a second title in FAMILY SAGAS:                                                       Suggestions for your 2nd title. Please post your title review on the this blog.

Appeal to be read for November meeting: Focus on all the appeal factors, but really think about character and frame.

  •  Allende, Isabel. The House of Spirits. (1981)   
  • —.Daughter of Fortune. (1999); bk.1 of duo.
  • Auel, Jean. The Clan of the Cave Bear. (1980) Earth’s Children; bk.1
  • Dunnett, Dorothy. The Game of Kings. (1961) Lymond Chronicles, bk.1.
  •    —-.  Niccolo Rising. (1986) House of Niccolo, bk.1
  • Fast, Howard. The Immigrants. (1977) Immigrants; bk.1
  •  Haley, Alex. Roots. (1976)
  •  Jakes, John. The Bastard. (1974) The Kent Family Chronicles; bk.1
  •  McCullough, Colleen. The Thorn Birds. (1977)
  •  Michener, James. The Covenant. (1980)
  •  Nomi, Eve. The Family Orchard.  (2000)
  •  Rutherfurd, Edward. The Princes of Ireland. (2004) Dublin Saga; bk.1
  • Stewart, Fred Mustard. The Magnificent Savages. (1996) The Savages; bk.1
  • Swerling, Beverly. City of Dreams. (2001) City of Four; bk.1
  • Tademy, Lalita. Cane River. (2001) Tademy Family Chronicles; bk.1

RA Roundtable Meeting Notes

Attendance: Shelley Quezada, Leane Ellis, Christine Sharbrough, Tatjana Saccio, Jim Riordan, Jan Reznick, Sandra Woodbury, Cindy Grove, Diane Giarrusso, Stefanie Aucoin, Jessica Fitzpatrick, Sandy Dobday, Anna Call, Becky Rowlands, Eileen Barrett


Jan told us they (MBLC) are working on a map of people who support the e-book project to show legislature. The pilot e-book program was launched last Thursday with 50 libraries (see MLS website for more details)

Christine went to Boston Book Buzz, and between that and reviewing for LJ, she had some books to give away. [Leane says definitely checkout Christine’s new Christian Fiction column in LJ!] Boston Book Buzz = worth going!

Jan – Western roundtable starting soon! They will build off of Cheryl Bryant’s workshop [Leane says Cheryl’s workshop is definitely worth going to].

Diane & Cindy – Tewksbury staff has decided to follow along with the schedule of the RA roundtable, read the benchmark and discuss it at their meetings

Stefanie – Medfield is starting the RA grant; they had Leane come out and do an intro. They will be doing historical fiction as a genre. They are also talking about breaking their fiction collection up by genre, but using Joyce Saricks’ genre appeal groups/families.

Shelley informed us that the concept of the RA stand-alone grant has been shelved. Libraries can collaborate and team up to do it, contact Shelley for more information.

Leane’s speed-reading program will likely be in the new year. MLA didn’t go for the RA interview workshop but she may be doing the speed-reading program for them in May at MLA

A brief discussion was had about how the circulation desk is now where a lot of RA moments happen and training your staff to handle and respond is important.

BENCHMARK DISCUSSION: (Only time Will Tell by Jeffrey Archer)

The group was split on whether they personally liked the book or not (though many did).
Appeal factors picked out:
• Definitely historical saga genre (as a series – not all contained in one book)
• Soap-opera feel; written like TV movie
• Open-ended
• Easy to read/accessible/short chapters
• Entertaining
• Characters were stock/stereotypical; not deep – but they were developed enough for people to want to know their story and care about them
• Clear heroes & villains
• Told from a variety of perspectives
• Social classes (upstairs/downstairs)
• Good vs. evil
• Archer good storyteller
• For fans of Horatio Alger type fiction

Possible RA suggestions:
• Follett
• Harry Potter
• Dickens
• Elizabeth George (the series appeal with many characters to follow)
• Jim pointed out the sort-of symbiotic relationship between family sagas and the BBC


Leane – Edward Rutherfurd’s New York
• Saga all in one book – gets reader interested in certain people, then moves on
• Goes through 9/11 – and does a good job of it
• Literary style
• Would very easily suggest this to fans of Archer. Also McCullough’s NF Brooklyn Bridge.

Shelley – Edward Rutherfurd’s Paris
• Not linear, jumps around
• Still Rutherfurd’s writing style
• Very detailed
• Follows 4 families
• Great book to read before traveling to Paris (also: McCullough’s NF Greater Journey)
• Would suggest for fans of Simon Winchester (non-fiction), or vice-versa
• Rutherfurd is more frame & details than characters (but characters follow beautifully and are people of their time)
• City IS character
• Similar to Michener in some ways, and Peter Ackroyd

Christine – Rosamonde Pilcher’s Shell Seekers
• Favorite comfort book
• Different perspectives
• Characters grow up/develop
• Strong woman who blazes her path
• Place is almost a character
• Romance
• RA: Kate Morton, Anne River Siddons

Tatjana – Jean Auel’s Clan of the Cave Bear
• Descriptive, detailed
• Traumatic start
• Prehistoric
• Outside character very well described, “otherness”
• Place not so important as the time/really the characters
• Some thought this book was fantasy, it’s really not (but might appeal to post-apocalyptic readers)
• Heard there was a lot of cave sex, but didn’t get to it (other say it’s coming, keep reading)

Jim – James Galsworthy’s Man of Property (1st of Forsyte saga)
• Nothing like the TV series (wouldn’t recommend for those fans)
• Starts in the middle and uses memories/flashbacks (TV series is very chronological)
• Cerebral, viewing from inside character heads (this makes Soames somewhat more sympathetic)
• Characters ambiguous (not clear good/bad)
• Dickens-like style; lots of allusions
• More like classic literature than genre fiction, demands more from the reader

Jan – Fred Mustard Stewart’s Magnificent Savages
• Very soap-opera, a bit too dramatic – maybe like a TV movie
• Unrealistic (too many things happen to him in a short time)
• Read easily
• Story & characters ok; not as well-developed
• Pacing & adventure are the appeal
• If not looking for depth and willing to overlook the drama, it’s very readable
• Clive Cussler does a sort-of tongue-in-cheek emulation of Stewart

Sandra – Norman Gautreau’s Sea Room
• Strong sense of place – Maine fishing/lobstering community, WWII
• Focuses on one family (but also has supporting characters of the community)
• Descriptive
• Great characters – developed over time
• Much local vernacular
• Touching/affecting

Cindy – Alex Haley’s Roots
• Lots of genealogy (has inspired many to research their own)
• Scandal of fiction/non-fiction Wouldn’t recommend for non-fiction (except maybe those who like genealogical research)
• You really travel along with the character
• Detailed
• Absorbing, pulls you in
• She fell in love with each character, and it was a bit upsetting that you don’t know what happens to them after they’re removed from the story
• Comes full-circle (starts in Africa, ends there)

Diane—Francine Rivers’ Her Mothers’ House
• Christian Historical saga
• Good storyteller
• Marta is an appealing character
• Very specific interior life

Stefanie –Joseph Roth’s Radetzky March
• Very German
• Not happy at all
• Dense
• Characters not likable, very fractured, held down by hubris
• Tragic
• Red Prince (non-fic) read-alike suggestion
• Other possible suggestions: Pat Barker’s Regeneration, Ian McEwan Atonement, Sebastian Faulks

Sandy – Ivan Doig’s English Creek
• Summer 1939; Montana ranger station
• Depression stil affecting
• Scottish background of family
• Place & detail are great; landscape “painted with a very small brush”
• Not a quick read; literary
• RA: Hearts of Horses by Gloss

Eileen – Ivan Doig’s Whistling Season
• Coming of age
• Moving on of time (and lost/forgotten things)
• Really paints with words
• If you want to cry, read this

Becky – Isabel Allende’s House of Spirits
• Slow
• Beginning of 20th century, unnamed country (but is Chile)
• Magical realism
• Lot of description
• Place well done

Submitted by Sandra Woodbury

Second Titles

Cindy Grove

Roots: The Saga of an American Family – Alex Haley
Appeal Factors: descriptive writing, emotionally moving story, a leisurely pace with strong characters that keep the reader engaged

It was hard to imagine Alex Haley taking the stories he heard his family telling on the front porch of his Tennessee home and turning them into an extensive research project and then a bestselling book about the generations of his family beginning with Kunte Kinte growing up in a small village in Africa and ending with his own life and the writing of the book. Roots is a wonderfully descriptive story written about characters that carry the reader on an amazing journey through American history. The stories are uplifting and heartbreaking, which gives this 729 page leisurely read a nice even flow. After reading the book I found that Alex Haley had a number of suits for plagiarism brought against him, which he settled. Haley was also shown to have falsified some of his research. For readers looking for a nonfiction book about a family’s history the plagiarism and falsification could be a turn off, but others this may not be an issue.

Sandra Woodbury

Sea Room – Norman G. Gautreau
Appeal Factors: descriptive, strong sense of place (Maine), realistic characters, affecting

This book surprised me: it started out almost too literary for me with somewhat overly long descriptions and repetitions, but about 60 pages in I suddenly realized I cared about the characters and their story. I teared up a few times, loved the Maine setting (and other than the war it struck me how much the time period could just as easily have been today – coastal Maine communities are timeless!), and felt everything was done quite realistically. The impact and view of the war by those left at home as well as the descriptions relayed by letters and reports from those at the front weren’t overdone, which I appreciated – this wasn’t so much a war story as a story set during, and impacted by, WWII. There was quite a lot about boats and boat building which could serve as an appeal factor for some, as could the mental impact of war – but both, to me, were secondary to just the overall realness of the people and place, and how it just drew you in to their lives. In some places it moved slowly due to the literary/descriptive style, but overall there was enough happening at all times to keep the story moving and the reader engaged by the plot as well.

Jim Riordan

Man of Property – John Galsworthy
Appeal Factors: Lovers of English Television period dramas, lovers of classical literature, literary prose, complex characters.

The Forsyte Saga follows the vicissitudes of the Forsytes, a well off middle class family, from the 1870s to the 1920s. Man of Property, the first book, runs up to the 1890s. One interesting feature of the book is that although the major events of the time affect the plot, the main focus of the story is always the things happening to the family. The affair between Irene Forsyte and Bosinney, June Forsyte’s fiancé, or Dartie blowing all his money at the races has much greater barring than political or social upheavals of the time. Part of the appeal of the plot is that the issues it raises are timeless. The writing style is more similar to books written in the mid-19th century with complicated flowing pose. The characters themselves tend to be morally ambiguous. The book is narrated from the perspective of all the characters as a result you never see them as 100% good or bad. For example Soames Forsyte is a largely negative character from the perspective of the other family members but when he is in the narration driver’s seat his perspective is more understandable. The whole of the Forsyte Saga was turned into serialized for TV twice and although the shows follow the books in spirit the tone of the shows is naturally faster pace and lacks some of the complexity of the characters in the book.

Stefanie Aucoin

The Radetzky March – Joseph Roth
Appeal Factors: tone, characters, frame, writing style

The Radetzky March is a historical saga following the Trotta family in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The book is very German in style: dark, tragic, flawed characters, hubris, disagreeable characters. The setting is interesting and plays an important part of the story since the Eldest Trotta, an infantryman saves the Kaiser’s life at the Battle of Solferino. Definitely not for everyone, but very literary and the damage to the personalities is what is most interesting about the novel.

Eileen Barrett

The Whistling Season – Ivan Doig
Appeal Factors: beautiful written, likable characters, great story

The Whistling Season (book#1 Morrie Morgan Series) by Ivan Doig Middle-aged Paul Milliron takes us back to his childhood in Marias Coulee, Montana just after the death of his mother when his father Oliver is struggling to raise him and his two brothers alone. His father asks him to write an ad for a housekeeper and cook which results in the hiring of Rose. Rose comes from Chicago along with her brother, Morris. Morris, although not trained as a teacher, unexpectedly takes over the roll when the current teacher elopes. Much loved, Morris is an inspiration to the children, especially Paul, in their one-room schoolhouse. Paul, now the Montana State Superintendent of Public Instruction, sadly realizes an era has come to an end when he is assigned the task of closing the one-room schoolhouse. Beautiful written in a slow hand, Doig words are as Sandy said like a painting.

Louise Goldstein

The Family Orchard – Nomi Eve
Appeal Factors: Lyrical writing, magical realism, family tree and orchard parallels, historical, creative

This ambitious novel takes us through six generations of a family. The author writes in a lyrical tone that is reminiscent of the magical realism of Garcia Marquez–One Hundred Years of Solitude or Aimee Bender’s Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake. Nomi Eve takes us (at times very graphically) through the romance, heartbreaks, and triumphs of a semi fictional family in Palestine/Israel from 1837 to the present. This talented author writes a beautifully crafted, almost mystical saga that will appeal to fans of books set in Israel, as well as people who enjoy historical family saga.

Jan Resnick

The Magnificent Savages – Fred Mustard Stewart
Appeal Factors: pace – fast; story – intricately plotted; language/style – descriptive, readable; tone – suspenseful, dramatic; frame – New York, China, Italy, 1851 – 1860’s.

This first in the series begins when Justin Savage, bastard son of a shipping magnate, sets out to sea as a cabin boy (1851). His jealous half-brother Sylvaner has paid crew members to see that he never returns. Justin survives the attempts due to a passenger with whom he falls in love. He is then taken prisoner by a pirate that he marries. Samantha marries a diplomat believing that Justin is dead. Justin becomes involved in piracy and politics and crosses the world several times and in dramatic events thwarts Sylvaner and makes his fortune. Lots of drama and action. Less character development.

  • The Savage Family Saga: Book 1
  • Similar authors: Wilbur Smith – Courteney Saga, Amitav Ghosh – Ibis Trilogy, Lalita Tamedy – Tademy Family Chronicles, Jennifer Donnelly – Tea Rose Trilogy, Hallie Rubenhold – Confessions of Henrietta Lightfoot Trilogy

Leane Ellis

New York – Edward Rutherfurd

A tale set against a backdrop of New York City’s history from its founding through the September 11 attacks traces the experiences of characters who witness such periods as the Revolutionary War, the city’s emergence as a financial giant, and the Gilded Age. Under one cover the story traces a variety of families who interweave through each others lives as the historical backdrop unfolds. The writing is elegant, the plotting predictable as characters get caught up in historic events but Rutherfurd takes chances with his characters that put them on the brink of soap opera territory. The main star of the novel is NYC and its complicated and colorful history. The writing is very descriptive and the pace is leisurely. Rutherfurd has an elegant pen and the book was very hard to put down as I followed the family talismans through the generations. The author weaves fascinating stories in a fascinating place. Archer & Follett fans might enjoy it, as well as nonfiction readers who enjoy place biographies like David McCullough’s Brooklyn Bridge.