Chris Bohjalian

A trio of unhappy families who make for happy reading.

Since his bestselling novel Midwives brought his work to wide attention, Chris Bohjalian‘s novels have become known for their subtle engagements with contemporary issues and their deft, sensitive portrayals of character. His new novel,  Secrets of Eden, is a fascinating, mystery-laden tale that grapples with themes as diverse as the trauma of domestic violence and the role of faith in the modern world. We asked Chris Bohjalian to recommend some favorite reads, and he offered a trio that recalls Tolstoy’s famous dictum about unhappy families.

Books by Chris Bohjalian

Anna Karenina

By Leo Tolstoy

“This winter I reread Anna Karenina and I learned two things. When I was 19, I clearly hadn’t any idea what parts of the text were important – and so I presumed everything was. I think I underlined half the sentences in the novel. (And when a novel is 800 pages long, that’s a lot of sentences.) Second, Tolstoy was a spectacularly astute chronicler of the demons and dreams that really drive human nature. Despite the carriages and oysters and all that fir, the story felt achingly contemporary and I just loved it.”

The Joyous Season

By Patrick Dennis

“Patrick Dennis may be best known for Auntie Mame, but the book that will always be among my very favorites by any writer is his howlingly funny tale of one WASP family’s monumental dysfunction in the early 1960s, The Joyous Season. Nearly every page is a scream. And the narrator is a bit like Holden Caulfield, but with less angst and a much better sense of humor. Ironically, the novel feels less contemporary than Anna Karenina — but I love the inadvertently retro texture of Manhattan.”


By Joseph O’Neill

“What we have here is actually a single man pining for his lost family: Hans van den Broek is estranged from his wife and young son, separated from them by an ocean as vast as the Atlantic. He is living in New York City, they are in London. The sense of longing and loneliness – of what it must be like to once have had a family, and then not – is poignant and profound. An added bonus? The Trinidadian entrepreneur who befriends Hans and this exquisite novel’s echoes of The Great Gatsby.”