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4 Books like Gone With The Wind: Family Meets History

Jo Ward itcherScarlett O’Hara has become an iconic figure of both literature and film. Her self-absorbed approach to life, the tormenting love affair, and her eventual need to draw on her inner strength to achieve the impossible make this a riveting read. It’s also an in-depth study of the civil war and the impact on the people of Southern U.S.A. How can you compare any book to such a classic? Let’s give it a go and find some books like Gone With The Wind! I’ve recommended ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’, ‘The Glass Palace’, ‘The Grass is Singing’ and ‘The Secret River’. ~ Jo Ward

Sweeping Sagas

‘Gone With The Wind’ is a brilliantly clever book. It balances a family epic with fully rounded characters against a really detailed backdrop of an immense moment in history. There aren’t many writers that could do this, to this degree, without either the history becoming sketchy and distorted, or the characters becoming caricatured.

Searching for books which can live up to Margaret Mitchell’s masterpiece was hard. I hope I’ve managed it.

***
‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ (Harper Lee, 1960)

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“People generally see what they look for, and hear what they listen for…”

The best place to start when you are looking for books similar to ‘Gone With The Wind’ has to be another classic. And in my humble opinion there is no better classic than this.

Six year old Scout lives with her father, Atticus, and her big brother Jem. Set during the early 1930s in Alabama, this is in many ways a coming of age story.

Scout is mainly concerned with playing with her big brother Jem and their friend Dill, making up stories about Boo Radley, the neighbourhood recluse.

The real world intrudes when Scout’s father is asked to defend a black man against the charge of raping a white woman. Clearly innocent, that doesn’t prevent the townsfolk from baying for a conviction. Atticus sticks by his principle that justice should be colour blind even when it puts him in the firing line, and Scout learns some valuable lessons.

An outstandingly brilliant book, wonderfully written.

Similarity Match: 80%
The story of a family in America’s deep south, facing issues of race and politics, but the upheaval is on a smaller scale.

***
‘The Glass Palace’ (Amitav Ghosh, 2000)

Image Source: Amazon

“How do you fight an enemy who fights with neither enmity nor anger but in submission to orders from superiors, without protest and without conscience?”

We’re moving away from the USA and into colonial Asia for my next book like ‘Gone With The Wind’. India and Burma to be precise.

Like ‘Gone With The Wind’, this book takes a key period in a country’s history and makes it personal by weaving into it the story of individuals. In this case, we start with Rajkumar, a boy from Burma, who travels to India, following in the footsteps of Burma’s outcast royal family.

From here, an epic tale unfolds taking in over 100 years of upheaval. From politics, to race relations, to colonialism, this novel has it all. And at the heart of it all are a small group of people who bind it all together and make it both personal and very readable.  

Similarity Match: 65%
On a similar scale to ‘Gone With The Wind’, with the same sweep of political turmoil, but told of several generations rather than one.

***
‘The Grass Is Singing’ (Doris Lessing, 1950)

Image Source: Amazon

“The phrases of this little lecture came naturally to her lips: she did not have to look for them in her mind. She had heard them so often from her father, when he was lecturing his native servants, that they welled up from the part of her brain that held her earliest memories…”

Not so much a family saga, more the tale of one woman and in particular her relationship with her servant, Moses. As with ‘Gone With The Wind’, Mary’s story takes place against a background of division. This time, the setting is Rhodesia, and the divisions are between the black and white communities.

Unlike Scarlett, Mary does not have to deal with a major upheaval, but her life is lived during a time which throws echoes down into today.

Mary’s marriage is cold, and she does not particularly enjoy being a farmer’s wife. She is also racist, overtly so, which causes problems with the farm workers as she is cruel in her behaviour towards them. However as time goes on, Mary becomes increasingly reliant on one servant – Moses.

The book opens with Mary’s murder by Moses. No spoilers there. It is a study of the factors leading up to the murder – the environment, the attitudes and the societal expectations of Rhodesia.

Similarity Match: 60%
A woman who is the product of her time, with views on race and her own place in the world – so far, so like ‘Gone With The Wind’. But here there is no national war, no single event to shape her, just a background of misery and murder.

***
‘The Secret River’ (Kate Grenville, 2005)

Image Source: Booktopia

“There were no signs that the blacks felt that the place belonged to them. They had no fences that said this is mine. No house that said, this is our home. There were no fields or flocks that said, we have put the labour of our hands into this place…”

Set first in London and then in Australia, this tells the story of William Thornhill, a boatman on the Thames who struggles against poverty and tries theft as a last resort. For this, he is deported to Australia.

The book follows his period as a captive and then as a free man. Once he is free, life remains a struggle. This time, the struggle is with the native people in Australia.

The settlers build fences and claim ownership of the land. In many cases they feel the colour of their skin makes them instantly superior. The native people don’t do ownership and resent this division of their land.

This is the story of a family set against a time of major upheaval, where both the history and the family story are gripping and interlinked.

Similarity Match: 50%
A story more of men than women, and the clash here is between two groups of people who have no common ground or ideas, but it is on a similar scale to ‘Gone With The Wind’.

***

Family Histories

‘Gone With The Wind’ was a family story set against a backdrop of major social and political change, with all the violence and upheaval that this entailed.

I have tried to find other books with similar remits. Have I succeeded?

What would you have included?

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