Reading epistolary novels is a pleasant experience. It seems like you are reading a stack of letters written by someone filled with love, warmth, and secrets. Somehow like being in the character’s head: how much closer do you want to get to a character than this? The novels listed below unfold injustices, love, trauma, and friendships from a very personal space. Keep reading, and get to know more about some classics that will warm your heart.
The Color Purple by Alice Walker
Alice Walker responded to a question – Why did you write The Color Purple by asking,
“She was all over my heart… so why shouldn’t she be in literature? “If you deny people their own voice, you’ll have no idea of who they were.”Alice Walker, Makers 2013
The African-American narrative talks about sisterhood, womanism and takes you on the road to self-discovery. We see people returning to Africa – where it all started and discovering the meaning of home. It conveys the essence of being human through Celie – the protagonist, writing letters to God and her sister. There is an ultimate question in this narrative – How can we assume that God is white? Marked with some very prominent episodes of gaining a self and a perspective, this novel will leave you in a paradox bound by calmness and heartache.
On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong
Have you ever felt the urge to tell your mother all about you – having no secrets and leading a transparent life? Dive into this book to witness the same. Little Dog, the protagonist, does the same and writes letters to his illiterate mother. He falls in love with an interracial boy. In a way, the storyline justifies what Nivedita Menon, in her book Seeing Like a Feminist said,
“What links queer people to couples who love across caste and community lines is the fact that both are exercising their right to love at an enormous personal risk.”Nivedita Menon, Seeing Like a Feminist
It is a thrilling tale of queer, young, teenage love exploring race, class, and masculinity.
The story also sheds light on the Vietnam war. The horrors of it affect the son and his mother because they lived through it. Hence, the narrative highlights two oppositions – love and violence.
One of the most impactful sayings to come out of this book is:
You are a mother, Ma. You are also a monster. Little Dog writes. But so am I – which is why I cannot turn away from you.Little Dog, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous
The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
High school holds a special place in our hearts. However, it is a different experience for everyone. The debut novel from Stephen Chbosky unfolds the story of Charlie, a teenage boy bridging the gap between adolescence and adulthood. He writes letters to a stranger, cataloguing his attempt to fit in and find friends. If you want to curl up on one fine evening and read a book that takes you through a series of emotions – this is your read. This book talks about everything from mental health to sexuality and reminds you how eccentric it is to be young. Rarely do we find a fictional scenario that matches our own. It will make you feel a part of something you have lived and remind you how much you miss it. Since the chapters are in letter form, it feels personalized and approachable.
However, we would like to issue a trigger warning as this book talks about suicidal tendencies and explores substance abuse.
The beautiful thing about these books combined is it makes you feel something. If The Color Purple talks about black lives, it also talks about taking accountability for yourself. Ocean Vuong’s story unfolds issues rhythmically, with beautiful writing and defines love from a space you haven’t been to before. And, The Perks of being a wallflower highlights the good and the bad about high school. Not everything was a bed of roses then, and we know that because the characters in this book live through it.
At Empowr Club, we foster a community that talks about these topics and starts conversations through book clubs.
If you want to know how epistolary novels are forerunners of modern psychological novels, begin your research here: https://www.britannica.com/art/epistolary-novel
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16 year old Hugh Jackman got dumped. He thought that was the end of his world.
Years later he writes a letter to himself:
JUST THOUGHT I would pop you a little note to see how you are (even though I know) to tell you that yes!!! There will come a time when you get over Penny dumping you at the bus stop. In fact you will see her in a couple of yrs and wonder why you cried every time you heard the Lionel Richie song “Penny Lover.”
Things are going to be different from how you imagine them.
I know you don’t have a clear idea of what you are going to do with your life, and I know that drives you a little crazy…particularly as you get asked about it every other day of your life. But when you are asked just smile and say “no idea…but when I do know I’ll get back to you.”
Just listen to your gut. Keep writing down one list…and one list only…the 5 things you love to do, and the 5 things you are good at…they will keep changing, but one day they will match up…and there is your path…but even then keep writing your list just to make sure you are still on the right track.
— From YOU!”
(Source: Dear Me 8: Letters to themselves)