I have a shirt that says, "I fell into a book and can't get up." This was definitely true of The Old Drift by Namwali Serpell, an African writer who is going places. Tracking the intertwined histories of three families in Zambia from the late 19th century to the near future, this novel sucks you in and doesn't let go. Serpell has much to say about racism, sexism, and the tyranny of others' expectations, but this book is frequently funny and full of magical realism. If you've read The Old Drift and are looking for more, I have some recommendations.
Philipp Meyer wrote The Son, set in Texas. Following the rise of a family through the voices of three generations, this book has quite a lot to say about America, not all of it positive. One of the best parts of the novel is the time the first character, Eli, spends with the Comanches, possibly the fiercest of the indigenous tribes and the most successful at resisting white settlers. His son is more compassionate than his ruthless father, and great-great-granddaughter Jeannie continues the tale, as shrewd and grasping as Eli as she presides over an oil and gas empire. Once again, there are highly individualized characters and an epic sweep.
Set in the wilderness of upper New York during the post-Revolutionary period is the Wilderness Series by Sara Donati. A young Englishwoman travels to the New World with the intention to teach, but is distracted by a Scottish man raised among the Mohawks. The series follows their adventures and those of their children in the backwoods as America becomes a nation. Good for fans of Diana Gabaldon fans (one of her characters makes an appearance), this will appeal to those who like some romance in with their derring-do.
Edward Rutherford writes a two-volume epic about the history of Dublin. The Princes of Ireland covers the period from pre-Christian kingdoms (including a reworking of the legend of Cuchulainn) to the desecration of Catholic properties under Henry VIII. The Rebels of Ireland takes us from the futile revolt of 1531 to the founding of the Republic of Ireland in 1922. Fans of James Michener will find much to like in these tales containing the passion and violence the Irish are known for.
Heading to southern Europe, we find Steven Saylor's saga of Rome, also a two-parter, Roma and Empire. Roma covers about 500 years from the official founding of Rome to the fall of the Republic, and Empire takes place between the accession of Augustus to the burial of Hadrian. All in all, about 1,000 years of politics, religious controversy, and war, much like our own, and seen through the eyes of one family. Saylor manages to get a great deal of historical detail into this panoramic novel, and there are hopes for a third volume.
Have more family-centric historical epics? Tell us about them in the comments.