As British rule comes to an end in 1950s Sudan, paving the way for independence, the wealthy, Westernized Abuzeid family faces uncertainty, both on political and personal levels. As patriarch Mahmoud deals with the domestic discord caused by his sparring wives--dutiful, traditional Waheeba, who's happiest in the family compound, and modern-minded Nabilah, who longs to return to her native Egypt--Mahmoud's son Nur, heir to the family trading business and engaged to be married, suffers a devastating accident that destroys all his plans...and leaves him determined to make a life for himself. Leila Aboulela's "elegantly written family epic" (Kirkus Reviews) portrays a society torn between its history and its future.
You can read my other reviews of Leila Aboulela's books here and here.
Galore by Michael Crummey
Set in the fictional fishing village of Paradise Deep, Galore recounts, in rollicking fashion, 200 years of Newfoundland history by tracing the tangled rivalry between two families: the Irish Catholic Devines, whose elderly matriarch is known as "Devine's Widow," and the English Sellers clan, headed by tyrannical magistrate King-me Sellers. Into their midst comes Judah, an ageless (and unaging) man miraculously rescued from the belly of a beached whale, who influences their destinies in surprising ways. Full of colorful characters and sharp dialogue, and with a hint of magical realism, this novel by the author of River Thieves was originally published in Canada in 2009.
Tiger Hills by Sarita Mandanna
Growing up on the southern Indian coffee plantation of Tiger Hills, a spirited and precocious girl named Devi befriends a boy named Devanna, whom her family adopts after his mother commits suicide. Devanna soon falls in love with Devi, but Devi's heart belongs to Machu, a young man famed for killing a tiger. While Devi chases Machu, Devanna pursues his education at Bangalore Medical College, where his intellectual gifts incur the envy of his more privileged classmates--setting in motion a tragedy that will define the lives of all three. This tale of star-crossed love, which begins in the 1870s and ends with the Indian independence movement, is also a story of India's turbulent coming of age as a nation.
The Watery Part of the World by Michael Parker
In 1813, Theodosia Burr Alston, daughter of notorious U.S. vice-president Aaron Burr (who killed Alexander Hamilton in a duel), survives abduction by pirates followed by abandonment on the shores of Yaupon, an isolated island in North Carolina's Outer Banks. There she meets a hermit, who helps the refined young woman survive in a harsh environment populated by fugitive slaves and society's outcasts. Over 150 years later, in 1970, the island's three remaining inhabitants--two of whom are Theodosia's descendants--find their lives inextricably tied together as they contemplate their shared past and uncertain future.
Leaving Van Gogh by Carol Wallace
At the request of his brother Theo, brilliant but tortured painter Vincent Van Gogh spends the summer of 1890 at the home of Dr. Paul Gachet, a specialist in mental illness. A compassionate physician and amateur painter, Gachet recognizes Vincent's artistic genius (even allowing Van Gogh to paint his portrait) but worries that it will be his patient's undoing. As Vincent's grip on sanity grows ever more tenuous, Gachet is forced to reexamine his own life and career in this introspective novel full of "empathy, compassion, and insight" (Booklist). If this premise intrigues you, you'll be pleased to know that Vincent Van Gogh's final days are also explored in Alyson Richman's The Last Van Gogh.
Drood by Dan Simmons
This novel, narrated by author Wilkie Collins, is an eerie, psychologically complex look at the last days of Charles Dickens' life, when he was hard at work writing the (never completed) novel The Mystery of Edwin Drood. During a horrific train wreck, Dickens rushes to aid his fellow passengers, only to encounter a man named Drood, who appears to have been traveling in a coffin. Although Dickens becomes obsessed with Drood, there's little evidence than the man exists--although that doesn't stop the literary lion from scouring the darkest corners of London's underworld to find him. Does Drood merely provide a convenient excuse for a respectable writer wishing to indulge his hidden vices, or could there be a more supernatural explanation?