Charmaine Wilkerson is the author of Black Cake, a novel about two estranged Caribbean-American siblings who together discover their mother’s secret past. The best-seller, which is being adapted as a Hulu series, is now available in paperback.
The Piano Lesson by August Wilson (1990)
This play, first staged in 1987 and currently on Broadway in a revival starring Samuel L. Jackson, won a Pulitzer Prize in 1990. The conflict revolves around a treasured family piano in a Pittsburgh home in the 1930s, and two African-American siblings who cannot agree on what to do with it: One wishes to preserve her family’s heritage, while the other wants to sell it to better his future. Buy it here.
Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson (1994)
A Japanese-American man is charged with murder in this gripping novel set in 1954 on a fictional island in Puget Sound. The book’s story of suspense, love, and injustice unfolds in the wake of World War II, when Japanese and Japanese-American members of the community were forcibly relocated to internment camps. Buy it here.
Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2006)
Adichie’s award-winning second novel is set in Nigeria primarily during the 1967-70 Nigeria-Biafra War. The sweeping drama chronicles the lives of three people whose relationships are tested by war and changed forever. Buy it here.
Empire Falls by Richard Russo (2001)
Russo’s Pulitzer winner follows several interconnected characters in a Maine town that’s weathering post-industrial decline and shaped by the aspirations of a wealthy family of landowners. It is less about one central conflict than an accumulation of challenges, dreams, and heartaches that affect the characters’ lives. Buy it here.
The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson (2009)
This hilarious novel about an old man who escapes from his nursing home deftly combines his current dilemma with a series of flashbacks depicting his involvement in key moments in history, including the development of the atomic bomb. Buy it here.
Beloved by Toni Morrison (1987)
I often recommend this book for both the story and the narrative style, which feels innovative to this day. Set in Ohio after the Civil War, it tells of a woman who goes to extremes to ensure that her daughter does not live a life of enslavement, and then struggles to embrace life herself going forward. Buy it here.
This article was first published in the latest issue of The Week magazine. If you want to read more like it, you can try six risk-free issues of the magazine here.