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5 Books like The Other Side of Paradise: Sagas Superior to Soaps

Mandy Baldwin itcherLove and war go together like strawberries and cream; at least, in novels. Throw in an exotic frame, such as the fall of Singapore in WW2, and what’s not to enjoy? People have loved a good saga ever since there has been someone ready to tell them. And books like ‘The Other Side Of Paradise’, ‘Salem Street’ or ‘Call Of The Kiwi’ continue a fine old tradition. ~ Mandy Baldwin

Life Goes on… and on…

Picture the scene: the year is 567 and we are somewhere in Norway.  Outside, the hall is built of pine-logs, the snow is deep and the wolves are howling. Inside, the fire burns hot and smoky and the mead is flowing. The old one-eyed story-teller has been talking for hours. His voice is husky as he ends his story:

“All the boats were sunk and all the other warriors dead. And so Ragnar The Rapacious and Sven The Smelly raised their mighty hammers at the same moment and each crashed them down on the other’s head.  And thus they both woke in Valhalla.”

There is a happy sigh from the group round the fire.  And just as everyone is drifting off to sleep, a voice at the back asks: “And then what happened?”

If you are a direct descendant of that curious Viking – and you might be, because he certainly got around!- then books like this, which answer that vital question, are just the thing for you.


Books Similar to ‘The Other Side Of Paradise’…

‘Salem Street’ (Anna Jacobs, 1994)

Image Source: Whsmith

The first of five books, it starts in 1820 in the street built by a Lancashire Mill owner.The series follows the (good and bad) fortunes of Annie Gibson, a pretty girl of sixteen, something of a cut above the rest of the workers from the place.  

Annie manages to endure poverty, heart-ache and rejection, rape and unwanted pregnancy, while never quite succumbing to the “offers” which might have made her materially richer and morally bankrupt.

Wonderfully researched, this is a ripping yarn that avoids ripping bodices. By the end of this book, the seeds have been sown for Annie’s character to develop, alongside the adventures she will embark on in later life.

Similarity Match: 90%
Yes, one is set in 1940s Singapore and the other in 1820s Lancashire, but they are both simply perfect examples of the Saga-teller’s art.

‘Call Of The Kiwi’ (Sarah Lark, 2014)

Image Source: Shopwahl

I’m including this, the last in a long saga which divides itself between England and News Zealand, because it has everything anyone could wish for in terms of love, war, struggle, pretty heroine, difficult family and exotic locations.

But be warned: this tale of an Anglo-Irish-New Zealand family has been translated from the original German, and the translator has done it no justice.  The American English sounds odd in the mouths of Victorian English characters and the translation shows little understanding of basic cultural references, which puts some glaring oddities in the text. But Lark’s story manages to rise above the damage, so don’t be put off too much.

It would be unfair to recap on an epic saga like this, but suffice to say, this follows the fourth generation who are forced to return reluctantly to the ‘old country’.

The contrasts between English and New Zealand’s society are sharply drawn and the landscapes of both countries are lovingly described.

Similarity Match: 85%
A splendid, yarn set on the opposite side of the world, but not centred on one major character.

‘The Thorn Birds’ (Colleen McCullough, 1977)

Image Source: Amazon

Here it is, folks: the grandmother of all modern Sagas.  Have you ever seen the mini-series? Yes? Well, forget that, wash your eyes out and settle down with the real thing.  

Forbidden love, religious disputes, land-wars, class divisions, unrequited passion, cross-culture affairs, dysfunctional parenting, money, poverty, fame, world travel, the outback… I could go on forever listing what this book includes.

The writing is excellent: the outback glows, plantations steam and the characters live. You will suffer for them, you will want to slap them, weep at their pain or kiss them and make it all better.

And it’ll walk you through four generations. A book like ‘The Thorn Birds’ becomes a personal friend.

Don’t expect to get anything done until you’ve finished it. If you live with someone who doesn’t understand these things, best move out until you’ve finished reading.

Similarity Match: 85%
A strong central female character who isn’t always likable, but this covers decades rather than years.


If You Like ‘The Other Side Of Paradise’, You Will Like…

They may not have exotic settings and the romances may be with the boy next door, but these stories give that same sense of stepping into the lives of characters, and sharing their hopes and joys.

The following recommendations are tales of triumph over trauma and will make you think that there is a novel in all of us.

‘The Ballymara Road’ (Nadine Dorries, 2015)

Image Source: Amazon

The last book in the Four Streets Trilogy, it is a marvellous combination of traditional ‘true grit and stoic’ saga and pure high drama.

Not afraid to tackle some devastating issues, Dorries sets apart from usual unwanted pregnancy along the outraged devout Catholic family. Instead, there is a trans-Atlantic conundrum and an unwanted child that can’t simply be signed away out of the mother’s life.  Although it stands clear that Dorries disapproves of much in the back-story, it is told with real affection.

Personally, I love a book which acknowledges that all isn’t sunshine and light in the post WW2 world, and this is set in 1963.

Buy all three, and you’ll be glad you’ve found a new favourite author.

Home-grown drama, and definitely not exotic, but infinitely more likable.

‘The Girls from See Saw Lane’ (Sandy Taylor, 2015)

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This is a totally subjective opinion, but I’m giving it anyway: this is a delight.

Set in Brighton, it follows two very English, very ordinary working-class girls of the time, as they grow up together in the 1960s and ’70s.  This is an era which I can just about remember but which now seems almost as alien as the Regency period.

The life-styles and values of the time are beautifully described, and the friendships and love affairs, as the girls grow up with every expectation of never leaving their home-town, are sensitively explored.

When change comes, in their lives and in the times they live through, each of the friends must find a way to adapt to a new relationship and a new way of living.

This has plenty of drama and describes an era, but centres on gentle character studies.


But What Happened Next?

These are books which become friends, and because they are generally well-researched, they can really bring their subject to life.

Do you enjoy books which paint the bigger picture? Please share your favourites.

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