Sprawling, adventuresome novels with a strong sense of place
February 25, 2021 9:44 AM   Subscribe

I'm in search of novels that scratch a particular itch. These books are typically long, with a meaty, engrossing plot line and a strong sense of place. Something that will absorb and transport me. More elements and examples inside!

More qualities I like about this kind of book:
- They span a long time period, sometimes multiple generations.
- They get me invested in many characters, not just a central one or two.
- Sometimes they're historical, but they always have place as a central element.
- They're full of engaging descriptive prose.
- They have a feeling of adventure, intrigue, or mystery that keeps the plot moving.

Examples I've loved:
The Goldfinch, Donna Tartt
The Queen of the Night, Alexander Chee
Daughter of Fortune, Isabel Allende
Pachinko, Min Jin Lee

Similar vibe but slower paced:
The Neapolitan Novels, Elene Ferrante
One Hundred Years of Solitude, Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Similar vibe but didn't do it for me:
Wolf Hall, Hilary Mantel
Winter's Tale, Mark Helprin (couldn't make it far in this one)

Can't wait to read your suggestions!
posted by rabbitbookworm to Media & Arts (65 answers total) 84 users marked this as a favorite
Pillars of the Earth - Ken Follett
State of Wonder - Ann Patchett
The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane - Lisa See
The Bonesetter's Daughter - Amy Tan
posted by XtineHutch at 9:50 AM on February 25, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
The Overstory by Richard Powers
The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai
posted by wicked_sassy at 9:52 AM on February 25, 2021 [4 favorites]

This perhaps stretches your zone of interest, but The Sparrow and Children of God are two of the best books I've read with this effect, particularly the sense(s) os place(s). Now, granted, these are often considered science fiction novels, in that we're talking about Jesuits in space making first contact on another planet, but author Mary Doria Russell is a cultural anthropologist by training and, my word, possesses some of the cleanest and sharpest prose I've ever read (she also writes historical fiction outside of these two books that would also scratch your itch). No matter, I first read these books probably 20 years ago and I still sometimes end up musing to myself, eyes closed, about the places where these books take place. "Transporting" is overused in fiction criticism, but these books are indeed transporting. The less you read about the plot in advance, the better, but even having the plot spoiled won't detract from the lush place-ness.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 9:53 AM on February 25, 2021 [10 favorites]

Blackwater, by Michael McDowell, hits all your points and it absolutely transported me.

Note: do not read the introduction, which is full of spoilers.
posted by Bourbonesque at 9:59 AM on February 25, 2021 [1 favorite]

The Brothers Karamazov and The Name of the Rose are two of my favorites. They're both murder mysteries. The latter is Sherlock Holmes for brainy people.
posted by jwhite1979 at 10:05 AM on February 25, 2021 [5 favorites]

Richard Powers, "The Overstory"
posted by Dorinda at 10:09 AM on February 25, 2021 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I love love love Rohinton Mistry's books for this, especially A Fine Balance which is one of my all time favourite books. It follows four characters who come from very different backgrounds, whose lives become intertwined during the course of the novel. The characters are extremely well-developed and place/politics (in this case, India in the 70s during a state of Emergency) are central to the book. I cannot recommend highly enough.

I also really enjoyed Funny Boy and Hungry Ghosts by Shyam Selvaduri, which both feature a gay male protagonist and his family. They have the same feeling as Mistry's work, and highlight the interplay between individual lives and the socio-cultural-political context. Funny boy is set in Sri Lanka, during a period of high ethnic tensions leading up to civil war. Hungry ghosts deals quite a bit with the experience of immigrating, in this case to Canada.
posted by DTMFA at 10:10 AM on February 25, 2021 [4 favorites]

Last night I started reading a book for my next book club meeting that sounds like it might fit the bill. I've only read a little bit but am really enjoying it so far:
The Seven or Eight Deaths of Stella Fortuna by Juliet Grames
posted by wisekaren at 10:14 AM on February 25, 2021

Best answer: Haven't read it yet, but you might like Elinor Catton's The Luminaries.
posted by praemunire at 10:17 AM on February 25, 2021 [4 favorites]

Robert Silverberg's Lord Valentine's Castle is a fantasy novel, which kicks off a loose trilogy. It's a far-future setting on a crazy planet with very louche politics/society and tons of crazy aliens and it just sort of sprawls all over the place.
posted by wenestvedt at 10:20 AM on February 25, 2021 [1 favorite]

Also The Raj Quartet by Paul Scott.
posted by essexjan at 10:20 AM on February 25, 2021 [1 favorite]

Also I'm not sure if you are into science fiction, but the Mars trilogy by Kim Stanley Robinson met your criteria for me although the writing style is very different from the books you listed that I have read. They are hard Sci fi so the technical details might turn you off, but I became incredibly invested in many of the characters. The point of view switches between characters so you end up understanding their differing perspectives and motivations, and I felt it was done brilliantly. They also feature a lot of intrigue and action (yet a lot of introspection also), and take place over a long time period. Place is absolutely central to the books: much of the plot and intrigue concerns the humans' attempts to create a habitable environment, and functional human society/ies, on Mars.
posted by DTMFA at 10:21 AM on February 25, 2021 [5 favorites]

You may be very, very happy with the author Edward Rutherfurd. He specializes in these kinds of big mass-market paperback epics - but he uses place as the anchor, tracing how different families come to that place and interact with each other across history.

His first one, Sarum, is my favorite and the most epic - it all takes place in the city of Salisbury, England, and in the surrounding countryside, and it starts in the neolithic era right at the end of the Ice Age, tracing the growth of Salisbury (and England along with it) through the arrival of the Celts, then the Romans, then the fall of the Roman empire, the Norman invasion, the Great Plague, the Wars of the Roses, the Industrial Revolution, and on and on. Each chapter touches on a different era, but there are the same families who turn up again and again to make a sort of through-line; like, the Norman Invasion chapter will discuss the arrival of the Norman Duke Godefroi and talk about the Normans through him, but then like four chapters later when we're in the Tudor era the Godefroi family is now known as "Godfrey" and the only Godfrey in town is a prostitute named Nellie who vaguely thinks she's descended from royalty but isn't sure. And then towards the end in the modern era you hear about an Australian dude named "Godfrey" who's back in town researching the family legend that the convict he's descended from was shipped out of Salisbury. And on and on like that.

Each chapter is self-contained enough that if you only want a quick read, you can read just one chapter and get a complete story out of it, and if you want to keep reading you'll see what happened to so-and-so's great-great-granddaughter and chuckle at how completely wrong they are about what their great-great-grandpa did during the Wars of the Roses or whatever.

He also likes to use little totemic objects to tie things together - like, in Sarum, one of the main characters in the neolithic chapter composes a song about the Atlantic Ocean rising and filling in the land bridge to Europe, creating the English channel. In later chapters, you occasionally run into someone singing that same song, or an adaptation of it, and it goes from being oral history to being a "fairy tale lullaby" kind of thing.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:25 AM on February 25, 2021 [5 favorites]

Marjorie Morningstar?
posted by Melismata at 10:29 AM on February 25, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Coincidentally (or not?) all the books I below are translations into English. (I suppose in a time in which we can't really travel internationally much, it's the next-best-way to get a strong sense of place!)

The Eighth Life (for Brilka) by Nino Haratischvili basically checks all your boxes -- it's a sweeping family epic, set primarily in Georgia (in the Caucasus) and secondarily in other parts of the Soviet Union and Europe, goes all through the twentieth century
[Das achte Leben (für Brilka) in German]

The American Fiancée by Eric Dupont -- also a sprawling, family epic, though across more places (Quebec, Berlin, New York and more). One of my top favorite books ever
[La fiancée américaine in French]

The Art of Losing by Alice Zeniter -- only three main characters, but also a family novel (the 3 characters are of 3 generations), exploring the path of a French-Algerian harki family in Algeria and in France, the effects of colonialism and its impact on this family
[L'art de perdre in French]

Disoriental by Négar Djavadi -- another multigenerational epic novel, about an Iranian family which ends up in France. Despite sounding superficially similar to the previous novel it's quite different in tone and narrative style
[Désorientale in French]

Homeland by Fernando Aramburu -- this is the one that I'm the least sure about. It's extremely strongly rooted in place and has an ensemble set of characters (it's about two families and the repercussions of an ETA assassination in the Basque Country in Spain), but it might be a bit more slow-going than you want and the sense of intrigue/mystery/adventure is not quite as strong as all the other items, though I thought it was an excellent novel.
[Patria in Spanish]
posted by andrewesque at 10:36 AM on February 25, 2021 [2 favorites]

The Accursed Kings - historical epic with a multitude of characters.
posted by Dotty at 10:42 AM on February 25, 2021 [1 favorite]

Oh and if you've not yet read it, I think you would really enjoy Donna Tartt's The Little Friend. It is similar in feeling to the Goldfinch, and brings the setting to life in the same way.

Ooh and maybe Where the Crawdads Sing also by Delia Owens? It does have intrigue and mystery, and place is central. I am not sure I've ever read such evocative descriptions of a natural setting (marshes) in fiction before. It was beautiful. It doesn't tick all your boxes though; in particular it is very centered around one character and you're unlikely to care much about anyone else.
posted by DTMFA at 10:42 AM on February 25, 2021

I haven't bought The Luminaries, because I'm trying to own fewer bricks, but I started it a while back and got interested before it had to go back to the library.

Maybe Cloud Atlas would do it? I liked parts of it.

Once, in a period of unemployment and rage (I was furious about, like, everything?) I read Gravity's Rainbow in a single 18 hour stretch. It was pretty intense. Get past the banana breakfast and it goes some peculiar places. Against the Day and Inherent Vice are also great Pynchon options.

Always Coming Home, Ursula Le Guin.
posted by Lawn Beaver at 10:43 AM on February 25, 2021

Centennial by James A. Michener...he has a number of these type of books, that '...most of which were lengthy, fictional family sagas covering the lives of many generations in particular geographic locales and incorporating detailed history.'
posted by BozoBurgerBonanza at 10:46 AM on February 25, 2021 [3 favorites]

oh for sure the Name of the Rose.

what about the Poisonwood Bible. Not a mystery, but suspenseful for sure, and just fantastic as far as setting goes.
posted by fingersandtoes at 10:56 AM on February 25, 2021

I think you would love the books of Dorothy Dunnett, who creates a feeling of total sensory immersion in very real and fascinating historical places. I cannot recommend her books enough.
- The Lymond Chronicles are six books about a Renaissance Scottish nobleman whose adventures take him through the courts of Scotland, England, France, Malta, Russia, and the Ottoman Empire. It's full of great characters, vivid locations, wonderful mystery, and the most delightful swashbuckling.
The first book is The Game of Kings. Do yourself a favor and enjoy it without spoilers.
- The House of Niccolò is an eight-book series set in the fifteenth century and follows a clever young man through three vividly drawn continents and a boatload of intrigue and adventure. The first book is Niccolò Rising. Again, give yourself the fun of reading it without spoilers.

To quote a wise and completely correct MeFite: "Not enough people have read Dorothy Dunnett and the world must know. These are intelligent, fun, gloriously written books that straddle literature and the most grand romance in the old-school sense of the world. People who would love these books read shit instead. Don't become a statistic. You cannot - will not - do better. Dorothy Dunnett."
posted by ourobouros at 10:57 AM on February 25, 2021 [6 favorites]

If fantasy/sci-fi is okay, I think that The Broken Earth trilogy by N.K. Jemisin fits here. The Fifth Season is the first one. There is a central character (and a number of other important ones), but there's extensive and beautiful worldbuilding, and I feel fully transported when reading them.
posted by rachaelfaith at 10:59 AM on February 25, 2021 [4 favorites]

Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh fits the bill nicely - set during the Opium wars in india its gripping and its the first in a trilogy if you need more.
posted by Exceptional_Hubris at 10:59 AM on February 25, 2021

With the sci-fi/speculative fiction thing, how about these books by Neal Stephenson: Anathem, Seveneves, or for big multigenerational and historical fun Cryptonomicon, and the prequel Baroque Cycle trilogy? I've always loved his world building, and I find a lot of his characters endearing. Sometimes I find him almost like Robert Heinlein, but in a good way. There is almost always suspense and adventure, and really smart people working on things and figuring things out. He's also really good at language and language play.
posted by Snowishberlin at 11:08 AM on February 25, 2021 [2 favorites]

The most important character in most of Thomas Hardy's novels is the landscape.

I have mentioned it here before, but Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro is a gem.
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 11:17 AM on February 25, 2021 [1 favorite]

Great question!

Three Junes and The Dark Sacred Night by Julia Glass. The second features some of the same characters as the first, deepening their stories. Place is ever-present in both.

Another favorite of mine in that vein is Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver.
posted by gold bridges at 11:21 AM on February 25, 2021 [2 favorites]

The Old Drift by Namwali Serpell. Multi-generational epic set in Zambia with some light magic realism.

Seconding The Luminaries.
posted by carolr at 11:22 AM on February 25, 2021 [1 favorite]

A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley.
posted by kevinbelt at 11:46 AM on February 25, 2021 [2 favorites]

The Brothers K by David James Duncan,
posted by dame at 12:04 PM on February 25, 2021 [1 favorite]

Haruki Murakami's The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle
posted by niicholas at 12:06 PM on February 25, 2021 [1 favorite]

The Signature of All Things, by Elizabeth Gilbert.
posted by The corpse in the library at 12:13 PM on February 25, 2021 [2 favorites]

My dear friends Jack and Stephen travel all over the world having adventures in the books by Patrick O'Brian. Start with Master and Commander and keep going. Great descriptions of life on the ships and on land.
posted by The corpse in the library at 12:15 PM on February 25, 2021 [4 favorites]

The Architect's Apprentice by Elif Shafak transported me to Istanbul in the 1500s. It's a fictional interpretation of some real events. The novel spans most of the narrator's life, and also tells us of time before and after his life. I learned a lot about sultans and mosques, and intersections of 'eastern' and 'western' cultures.

From Goodreads: "A memorable story of artistic freedom, creativity, and the clash between science and fundamentalism, Shafak’s intricate novel brims with vibrant characters, intriguing adventure, and the lavish backdrop of the Ottoman court, where love and loyalty are no match for raw power."
posted by hydra77 at 12:24 PM on February 25, 2021

Best answer: James Michener kind of invented the genre with Hawaii, Texas, etc. older, not sure how dated his books may be.

A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry is somewhat heart-breaking, but was very good, engrossing.

Other novels by Indian writers may be of interest; these are all bestsellers with very strong reviews.
The White Tiger: A Novel by Aravind Adiga (Booker Prize)

The God of Small Things: A Novel by Arundhati Roy (Booker Prize)

The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai

A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth

The New Yorker has a list.
posted by theora55 at 12:25 PM on February 25, 2021 [4 favorites]

It’s been a while, but many of Salman Rushdie’s early novels did this for me — I remember “Midnight’s Children” and “Shame” particularly.
posted by sesquipedalia at 12:30 PM on February 25, 2021 [1 favorite]

Gormenghast trilogy. Titus Groan [1946], Gormenghast [1950], Titus Alone [1959] written after WWII by a PTSDed Mervyn Peake who declined into early onset dementia. Gothic Castle, mad aunts in the West Wing, scheming servants below stairs turning spits of whole hog in the kitchen, a new born heir to Earldom, loadsa owls in the battlements and bats in the belfry.
The World is Not Enough = Argile et Cendres by Zoé Oldenbourg / Зоя Серге́евна Ольденбург. Medieval extended family romp [500 pages - horses! tournaments! beards!] set in Champagne in Crusader times. If you like her style and research there are another 20 historical novels, histories, biographies where A&C came from.
2nding: Aubrey and Maturin 20-ology by Patrick O'Brian. Napoleonic War sailing adventures. Claustrophobic sense of place with 300 people crammed on a ship 150 ft long but with ever-changing backdrop, expansive views, horizontal sleet storms, mizzen halliards, lobscouse, weevils, secret operations and a visit to the Galapagos. Episodes from many of the books crammed into a single Peter Weir movie Master & Commander which is also the title of the first book in the series.
posted by BobTheScientist at 12:31 PM on February 25, 2021 [4 favorites]

All That Is Solid Melts into Air about the collapse of the Soviet Union depicted through the events that unfolded in Chernobyl is devastating and beautiful. I felt truly transported to the places depicted.
posted by rw at 12:35 PM on February 25, 2021

This is my favorite kind of book and I'm getting a lot of ideas here!

Some that might hit:

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith (Williamsburg, Brooklyn in the early 20th century)
Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie (Pakistan in the years after Partition)
Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides (though it's two places, the mountains of Turkey and Detroit, spans the 1920s to the 1980s)
Wild Swans by Jung Chang (China from the Revolution to the 80s, this is a family memoir that reads like a novel)
Mrs. Everything by Jennifer Weiner (Detroit and Connecticut, post-war period through now)

And honestly nothing I've read as an adult has given me that same magic I got from The Goldfinch but if you have more of an appetite for 19th century British literature than I do, some of the more sprawling Dickens and Austen works might be good.
posted by lunasol at 1:31 PM on February 25, 2021 [2 favorites]

Villette - C.Bronte
We, the Drowned - C.Jensen
Giants in the Earth - O.E. Rolvaag

Villette was a book I read and thought, furiously, why has this been kept from me! We, the Drowned is like November on the Baltic. Follow the boots! Giants in the Earth is probably very different in its original (Norwegian) - but a slightly strange, kind of beautiful book.
Currently I am reading A Gentleman in Moscow and it has lots of good to it.
posted by From Bklyn at 2:04 PM on February 25, 2021 [1 favorite]

Barkskins by Annie Proulx. Quoting Wikipedia
It tells the story of two immigrants to New France, René Sel and Charles Duquet, and of their descendants. It spans over 300 years and witnesses the deforestation of the New World from the arrival of Europeans into the contemporary era of global warming.
This didn't sound like my kind of book but Proulx is my kind of writer so I took a chance and was glad.
posted by kingless at 2:11 PM on February 25, 2021

A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson
Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
Buddenbrooks by Thomas Mann
Stone from the River by Ursula Hegi
posted by scantee at 4:06 PM on February 25, 2021

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett is absorbing and follows two generations of women who lead very different lives. Less adventurous, less sense of place that your ideal.

The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende. It’s very much in the spirit of 100 years of solitude. Less masterful, more straightforward.

I found the Orphan Master’s Son to be a good companion to Pachinko.

The Impressionist by Hari Kunzru starts in the British Raj. Definitely an adventure story.
posted by vunder at 4:21 PM on February 25, 2021

2nding Wild Swans.

Also I read this novel years ago and it’s stuck with me: Wind from the Carolinas by Robert Wilder. A southern Loyalist family packs up after losing the American Revolution and attempts to recreate their life in the Bahamas. Spans several generations.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 4:23 PM on February 25, 2021

I know The Tea Girl of Hummingbird lane was already recommended, but really anything by Lisa See! I've read 4 of her books this past year alone.

Agree with All The Light We Cannot See, just loved that book.
posted by radioamy at 4:23 PM on February 25, 2021

I thought of Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner.
posted by kirst27 at 5:03 PM on February 25, 2021

You might enjoy the Eide Family novels by Peter Geye. I've only read the second one, Wintering, but it had a very strong sense of place and the central event is a father-son adventure in, well, the winter. The events actively happening in the book don't span a long time period, but references to past generations are frequent and you get to know them too. I believe the other two books are about those generations.
posted by catabananza at 5:04 PM on February 25, 2021

A Suitable Boy, by Vikram Seth? It’s mid-20th C India, sprawling, multigenerational, and very entertaining.
posted by LizardBreath at 5:43 PM on February 25, 2021

Kim Stanley Robinson's Red Mars.
- spans several decades
- is told from the POV of a half-dozen very different characters
- has an extremely strong sense of place
- contains tons of political intrigue and a good amount of adventure too
- is fairly long (and the sequels are even longer, but IMO not as good)

Whenever anyone says "strong sense of place" this is always the first book that comes to my mind.

Agree with Name of the Rose as well, it's not so sprawling in time but the setting is very strong, lots of intrigue too.
posted by equalpants at 5:54 PM on February 25, 2021

Stone's Fall by Iain Pears is a corker that checks all those boxes. I really enjoyed it right up until a particular wrinkle at the end which may not be such a dealbreaker for you.
posted by dotparker at 7:08 PM on February 25, 2021

I love this question! So many books I love on this list already - and now I have some new ones to read. I am surprised nobody has mentioned the fabulously-written, completely engrossing novels of Madeline Miller, both Circe and Song of Achilles. Both set in ancient Greece. Very different to that but also fantastic: The Orphan Master's Son, set in North Korea. Quite the opus and also engrossing.
posted by sonofsnark at 7:59 PM on February 25, 2021 [1 favorite]

Came here to recommend Centennial as well.

You might also think about John Crowley's "Little, Big," which is a fantasy with a very strong sense of place -- to the extent that the place is very much a character.
posted by lhauser at 9:11 PM on February 25, 2021 [1 favorite]

I cannot help but heartily recommend the oft-overlooked Gormenghast books.

posted by prufrock at 9:56 PM on February 25, 2021

Piranesi by Susanna Clarke is mysterious with a strong sense of place (but not sprawling and with only a handful of characters)...a quick, fun read, though. Perhaps Greenwood by Michael Christie... layered, quasi-historical, w/ a multigenerational storyline. And finally, maybe The Quincunx by Charles Palliser...an atmospheric, Dickensian page-turner.
posted by ch3ch2oh at 10:19 PM on February 25, 2021 [1 favorite]

So many great books! I'd add The Living by Annie Dillard. It's an evocative, multi-generational novel about pioneer life in two small communities on the Puget Sound.
posted by vicambulist at 10:54 PM on February 25, 2021

Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry
posted by Mavri at 12:37 AM on February 26, 2021 [3 favorites]

I see you didn't like Helprin's Winter's Tale but I think you should give his Soldier of the Great War a shot. It's way less magical-realist, very beautiful (if a bit of a slow start), an epic sweep of a narrative with incredible descriptions, and completely immersive. It's one of my most favorite books ever, but I didn't like Winter's Tale much either.
posted by Miko at 7:56 AM on February 26, 2021

I agree with From Bklyn, above: A Gentleman in Moscow is fantastic!

It takes place inside one hotel but spans like fifty years -- and flashbacks reach across Europe and into other decades. I looooved it.
posted by wenestvedt at 10:37 AM on February 26, 2021 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Wow! It's like Christmas morning! Thank you all for your recommendations. You will keep me reading for the next one thousand years.

I'm excited about so many of these books, but I'm going to mark best answers for the ones I'm ready to run out and buy today. I should have mentioned I give extra points to female and POC protagonists and authors, and minus points to white people writing about regions they're not from. Also, I do like some sci fi (Red Mars was great, and an excellent addition to this list) but I'm not so into nautical tales.

Two others I thought of that fall into this category for me are Twice Born by Margaret Mazzantini and, to a degree, The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri (less adventuresome but definitely transporting.)

I've gathered these recommendations into a spreadsheet here. Hopefully I didn't miss any. Happy reading!
posted by rabbitbookworm at 12:57 PM on February 26, 2021 [3 favorites]

Alan Moore’s first novel, Voice of the Fire, is set on the site of present-day Northampton. It’s like Edward Rutherford’s novels if Edward Rutherford was obsessed with the power words and narratives have over each other, and always making them do actually new and novel things.
posted by infinitewindow at 12:49 PM on February 27, 2021

I sometimes start to worry, in these threads, that I'm giving the impression that I've only read like six books in my life, but I will once again recommend (and nth) Ken Follet's Kingsbridge series.
posted by turbid dahlia at 2:04 PM on February 28, 2021

Possibly a bit too late to this, but I thoroughly enjoyed the Transylvanian Trilogy by Miklos Banffy. Combined, it's a 1,500+ page insight into what life was like in Transylvania, then an outpost of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, in the run up to the First World War. The trilogy follows the life of a group of aristocrats and acts as a sort of last hurrah for a soon-to-be-lost way of life. Absolutely riveting and transported me completely to another place and time.
posted by muthecow at 2:31 AM on March 2, 2021

An Australian example would be Cloudstreet by Tim Winton. Covers sprawling, 20 year saga with the story of two families intertwined as they move into separate halves of the same house. Amazing sense of Australia (WA in particular) - suburban, coastal, beachy. Utterly beautiful.

Second the rec for Luminaries.
posted by chronic sublime at 2:55 AM on March 2, 2021

James Clavell, Shogun, and others.
Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden
posted by theora55 at 4:25 PM on March 2, 2021

I am wrapping up The Three Body Problem trilogy, and if you're remotely into science fiction, it's right up your alley. I would sing its praises but I'm at work and just wanted to throw it in the mix. It's engrossing as all get-out and it hits all the marks you're looking for.
posted by pedmands at 12:51 PM on March 4, 2021 [1 favorite]

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