5 Must-Read Novels Set In Philadelphia

5 Must-Read Novels Set In Philadelphia

Philadelphia: City of brotherly love, notable for its rich history. Take a trip to Philly with these 5 must-read novels set in Philadelphia.

1. The Financier by Theodore Dreiser

“The Philadelphia into which Frank Algernon Cowperwood was born was a city of two hundred and fifty thousand and more. It was set with handsome parks, notable buildings, and crowded with historic memories. Many of the things that we and he knew later were not then in existence-the telegraph, telephone, express company, ocean steamer, city delivery of mails. There were no postage-stamps or registered letters. The street car had not arrived. In its place were hosts of omnibuses, and for longer travel the slowly developing railroad system still largely connected by canals. Cowperwood’s father was a bank clerk at the time of Frank’s birth, but ten years later, when the boy was already beginning to turn a very sensible, vigorous eye on the world, Mr. Henry Worthington Cowperwood, because of the death of the bank’s president and the consequent moving ahead of the other officers, fell heir to the place vacated by the promoted teller, at the, to him, munificent salary of thirty-five hundred dollars a year. At once he decided, as he told his wife joyously, to remove his family from 21 Buttonwood Street to 124 New Market Street, a much better neighborhood, where there was a nice brick house of three stories in height as opposed to their present two-storied domicile. There was the probability that some day they would come into something even better, but for the present this was sufficient. He was exceedingly grateful.”

2. Birdy by William Wharton

“Hailed upon its publication as “a classic for readers not yet born” (Philadelphia Inquirer), Birdy is an inventive, hypnotic novel about friendship and family, dreaming and surviving, love and war, madness and beauty, and, above all, “birdness.” It tells the story of Al, a bold, hot-tempered boy whose goals in life are to life weights and pick up girls, and his strange friend Birdy, the skinny, tongue-tied perhaps genius who only wants to raise canaries and to fly. While fighting in World War II, they find their dreams become all too real—and their lives are changed forever.”

3. The Year of the Return by Nathaniel Popkin

“Set against the backdrop of 1976 Philadelphia, The Year of the Return follows the path of two families, the Jewish Silks and African American Johnsons, as they are first united by marriage and then by grief, turmoil, and the difficult task of trying to live in an America failing to live up to its ideals.kk

“Paul Silk and Charlene Johnson are journalists whose love for each other and commitment to social justice were formed in the peace movements of the 1960s. But the idealism of that era leads to the urban deterioration of the 1970s. Mayor Frank Rizzo’s Philadelphia is a place of crime, white flight, and class resentment that is inhospitable to their interracial marriage, forcing them to move away. But when Charlene dies of cancer, Paul returns.

“Unmoored and unable to let go of Charlene, he wades back into the lives of the two families, with the hope of helping Charlene’s younger brother Monte, once a prodigy and now a troubled veteran of the Vietnam War. Their explosive reunion leads to the baring of personal revelations and dangerous secrets.

The Year of the Return is a vivid story of families trying to reconnect with and support each other through trauma and loss, and a meditation on the possibility of moving on to a better future.”

4. Loving Day by Mat Johnson

“Warren Duffy has returned to America for all the worst reasons: His marriage to a beautiful Welsh woman has come apart; his comics shop in Cardiff has failed; and his Irish American father has died, bequeathing to Warren his last possession, a roofless, half-renovated mansion in the heart of black Philadelphia. On his first night in his new home, Warren spies two figures outside in the grass. When he screws up the nerve to confront them, they disappear. The next day he encounters ghosts of a different kind: In the face of a teenage girl he meets at a comics convention he sees the mingled features of his white father and his black mother, both now dead. The girl, Tal, is his daughter, and she’s been raised to think she’s white.

“Spinning from these revelations, Warren sets off to remake his life with a reluctant daughter he’s never known, in a haunted house with a history he knows too well. In their search for a new life, he and Tal struggle with ghosts, fall in with a utopian mixed-race cult, and ignite a riot on Loving Day, the unsung holiday for interracial lovers.”

5. Lilli de Jong by Janet Benton

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“Philadelphia, 1883. Twenty-three-year-old Lilli de Jong is pregnant and alone—abandoned by her lover and banished from her Quaker home. She gives birth at a charity for wronged women, planning to give up the baby. But the power of their bond sets her on a completely unexpected path. Unwed mothers in 1883 face staggering prejudice, yet Lilli refuses to give up her baby girl. Instead, she braves moral condemnation and financial ruin in a quest to keep the two of them alive.

“Lilli confides this story to her diary as it unfolds, taking readers from a charity for unwed mothers to a wealthy family’s home and onto the streets of a burgeoning American city. Her story offers a rare and harrowing view into a time when a mother’s milk is crucial for infant survival. Written with startling intimacy and compassion, this accomplished novel is both a rich historical depiction and a testament to the saving force of a woman’s love.”

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