Top 10 Books That Will Make You Cry

02.04.2014

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis

It takes a lot for me to cry. But, when I’m moved to tears, it’s serious business. I didn’t cry at the age of seven when my pet cat, Obie, never returned home after a day out exploring the neighbourhood. I didn’t cry when my ex-boyfriend and I split up because he felt he had “outgrown” me. Nor did I cry at my own wedding as most brides tend to do on their special day. I’m not a crier. But, I have cried. And when I cry, it comes from a deep source of anguish or empathy. My tears aren’t born of superficial emotions. They are reserved for my husband, my children—and at times, heart-wrenching literature.

Here are top 10 books on my list that are so emotional and so good, they will make you cry. They certainly made me weep throughout my reading:

1. The Pianist by Wladyslaw Szpilman

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On September 23, 1939, Wladyslaw Szpilman played Chopin’s Nocturne in C-sharp minor live on the radio as shells exploded outside-so loudly that he couldn’t hear his piano. It was the last live music broadcast from Warsaw: That day, a German bomb hit the station, and Polish Radio went off the air.

Though he lost his entire family, Szpilman survived in hiding. In the end, his life was saved by a German officer who heard him play the same Chopin Nocturne on a piano found among the rubble. Written immediately after the war and suppressed for decades, The Pianist is a stunning testament to human endurance and the redemptive power of fellow feeling.

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2. A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra

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A haunting novel set in a nearly abandoned hospital in war-torn Chechnya that is both intimate and ambitious in scope. Eight-year-old Havaa, Akhmed, the neighbour who rescues her after her father’s disappearance, and Sonia, the doctor who shelters her over 5 dramatic days in December 2004, must all reach back into their pasts to unravel the intricate mystery of coincidence, betrayal and forgiveness which unexpectedly binds them and decides their fate.

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3. Half-Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan

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Paris, 1940.  A brilliant jazz musician, Hiero, is arrested by the Nazis and never heard from again.  He is twenty years old.  He is a German citizen.  And he is black.

Fifty years later, his friend and fellow musician, Sid, must relive that unforgettable time, revealing the friendships, love affairs and treacheries that sealed Hiero’s fate. From the smoky bars of pre-war Berlin to the salons of Paris — where the legendary Louis Armstrong makes an appearance — Sid, with his distinctive and rhythmic German-American slang, leads the reader through a fascinating world alive with passion, music and the spirit of the resistance. Half-Blood Blues, the second novel by an exceptionally talented young writer, is an entrancing, electric story about jazz, race, love and loyalty, and the sacrifices we ask of ourselves, and demand of others, in the name of art.

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4. All the Broken Things by Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer 

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September, 1983. Fourteen-year-old Bo, a boat person from Vietnam, lives in a small house in the Junction neighbourhood of Toronto with his mother, Thao, and his four-year-old sister, who was born severely disfigured from the effects of Agent Orange. Named Orange, she is the family secret; Thao keeps her hidden away, and when  not at school or getting into fights on the street, he cares for her.

One day a carnival worker and bear trainer, Gerry, sees Bo in a streetfight, and recruits him for the bear wrestling circuit, eventually giving him his own cub to train. This opens up a new world for Bo–but then Gerry’s boss, Max, begins pursuing Thao with an eye on Orange for his travelling freak show. When Bo wakes up one night to find the house empty, he knows he and his cub, Bear, are truly alone. Together they set off on an extraordinary journey through the streets of Toronto and High Park. Awake at night, boy and bear form a unique and powerful bond. When Bo emerges from the park to search for his sister, he discovers a new way of seeing Orange, himself and the world around them.

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5. Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese

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 The story opens with Sister Mary Joseph Praise, an innocent and beautiful young nun who is setting off to do good in the world. But at her very first posting, and before even beginning to fulfill her mandate, she is brutally raped. We are never sure exactly how she processes this experience or manages to move on, but before long the fervently religious Sister flees to the one place on the planet where she feels there is goodness – the mission hospital in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Here the brash and brilliant Dr. Thomas Stone, a man she once nursed from the brink of death back to health, takes her under his wing, and, against plan, into his heart. Conflicted about their feelings, they can hardly acknowledge the depth of their passion — not to themselves, not to each other and certainly not to their colleagues. But their secret cannot be kept forever. Sister Mary is carrying twins. Marion and Shiva Stone are the result of this illicit union. Almost at birth the twins are orphaned. Sister Mary dies in childbirth and Dr. Stone is too overcome with grief to do anything but disappear. And here the real story begins. We are with Marion and Shiva as they come of age, develop the same passion for medicine that their parents shared, and fall in love with the same woman. Their shared passion for this woman will tear them apart and force Marion, fresh out of medical school, to flee his homeland and find refuge working as an intern in an underfunded, overcrowded New York hospital. When his past catches up to him, Marion must entrust his life to the two men he thought he trusted least: the surgeon father who abandoned him and the brother who betrayed him.

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6. The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman

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Nearly two thousand years ago, nine hundred Jews held out for months against armies of Romans on Masada, a mountain in the Judean desert. According to the ancient historian Josephus, two women and five children survived. Based on this tragic and iconic event, Hoffman’s novel is a spellbinding tale of four extraordinarily bold, resourceful, and sensuous women, each of whom has come to Masada by a different path. Yael’s mother died in childbirth, and her father, an expert assassin, never forgave her for that death. Revka, a village baker’s wife, watched the murder of her daughter by Roman soldiers; she brings to Masada her young grandsons, rendered mute by what they have witnessed. Aziza is a warrior’s daughter, raised as a boy, a fearless rider and expert marksman who finds passion with a fellow soldier. Shirah, born in Alexandria, is wise in the ways of ancient magic and medicine, a woman with uncanny insight and power.

The lives of these four complex and fiercely independent women intersect in the desperate days of the siege. All are dovekeepers, and all are also keeping secrets-about who they are, where they come from, who fathered them, and whom they love.

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7. Say You’re One of Them by Uwem Akpan

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Each story in this jubilantly acclaimed collection pays testament to the wisdom and resilience of children, even in the face of the most agonizing circumstances.

A family living in a makeshift shanty in urban Kenya scurries to find gifts of any kind for the impending Christmas holiday. A Rwandan girl relates her family’s struggles to maintain a facade of normalcy amid unspeakable acts. A young brother and sister cope with their uncle’s attempt to sell them into slavery. Aboard a bus filled with refugees-a microcosm of today’s Africa-a Muslim boy summons his faith to bear a treacherous ride across Nigeria. Through the eyes of childhood friends the emotional toll of religious conflict in Ethiopia becomes viscerally clear.

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8. The Glass Boys by Nicole Lundrigan

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When Roy Trench is killed in a drunken prank gone wrong, his brother Lewis sees blood on the hands of the man responsible: the abusive alcoholic, Eli Fagan. Though the courts rule the death an accident, the event opens a seam of hate between the two families of Knife’s Point, Newfoundland.

Desperate to smother the painful past with love, Lewis marries Wilda, and the pleasure he takes in their two children — Melvin and Toby — recalls the happier days of his childhood with Roy. But as he watches his small family fracture, the darkness of the past begins to cloud the present, leading Lewis back to Eli Fagan — and his watchful stepson, Garrett Glass.

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9. I Am Forbidden by Anouk Markovits

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Spanning four generations, from pre-World War II Transylvania, to 1960s Paris, to contemporary New York, Markovits’ masterful novel shows what happens when unwavering love and unyielding law clash–a rabbi will save himself while his followers perish; a Gentile maid will be commanded to give up the boy she rescued because he is not of her faith; two devoted sisters will be forced apart when one begins to question their religion’s ancient doctrine. One sister embraces and finds comfort in the constraints of the world she’s always known, while the other knows she will suffocate in a life without intellectual freedom. Separated by the rules of their community, the two sisters are brought together again when a family secret threatens to make pariahs of them all. Dark, powerful, and utterly compelling, I Am Forbiddentakes us deep inside the minds of those who leave their restrictive environments, and deep into the souls of those who struggle to stay.

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10. The Kite Runner / A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

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A Thousand Splendid Suns is a breathtaking story set against the volatile events of Afghanistan’s last thirty years-from the Soviet invasion to the reign of the Taliban to post-Taliban rebuilding-that puts the violence, fear, hope, and faith of this country in intimate, human terms. It is a tale of two generations of characters brought jarringly together by the tragic sweep of war, where personal lives-the struggle to survive, raise a family, find happiness-are inextricable from the history playing out around them.

Propelled by the same storytelling instinct that made The Kite Runner a beloved classic, A Thousand Splendid Suns is at once a remarkable chronicle of three decades of Afghan history and a deeply moving account of family and friendship. It is a striking, heart-wrenching novel of an unforgiving time, an unlikely friendship, and an indestructible love-a stunning accomplishment.

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11. The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway

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This brilliant novel with universal resonance tells the story of three people trying to survive in a city rife with the extreme fear of desperate times, and of the sorrowing cellist who plays undaunted in their midst.

One day a shell lands in a bread line and kills twenty-two people as the cellist watches from a window in his flat. He vows to sit in the hollow where the mortar fell and play Albinoni’s Adagio once a day for each of the twenty-two victims. The Adagio had been re-created from a fragment after the only extant score was firebombed in the Dresden Music Library, but the fact that it had been rebuilt by a different composer into something new and worthwhile gives the cellist hope.

Meanwhile, Kenan steels himself for his weekly walk through the dangerous streets to collect water for his family on the other side of town, and Dragan, a man Kenan doesn’t know, tries to make his way towards the source of the free meal he knows is waiting. Both men are almost paralyzed with fear, uncertain when the next shot will land on the bridges or streets they must cross, unwilling to talk to their old friends of what life was once like before divisions were unleashed on their city. Then there is “Arrow,” the pseudonymous name of a gifted female sniper, who is asked to protect the cellist from a hidden shooter who is out to kill him as he plays his memorial to the victims.

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12. The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri

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The Namesake takes the Ganguli family from their tradition-bound life in Calcutta through their fraught transformation into Americans. On the heels of their arranged wedding, Ashoke and Ashima Ganguli settle together in Cambridge, Massachusetts. An engineer by training, Ashoke adapts far less warily than his wife, who resists all things American and pines for her family. When their son is born, the task of naming him betrays the vexed results of bringing old ways to the new world. Named for a Russian writer by his Indian parents in memory of a catastrophe years before, Gogol Ganguli knows only that he suffers the burden of his heritage as well as his odd, antic name. Lahiri brings great empathy to Gogol as he stumbles along the first-generation path, strewn with conflicting loyalties, comic detours, and wrenching love affairs. With penetrating insight, she reveals not only the defining power of the names and expectations bestowed upon us by our parents, but also the means by which we slowly, sometimes painfully, come to define ourselves.

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13. The Hungry Ghosts by Shyam Selvadurai

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In Buddhist myth, the dead may be reborn as “hungry ghosts”-spirits with stomach so large they can never be full-if they have desired too much during their lives. It is the duty of the living relatives to free those doomed to this fate by doing kind deeds and creating good karma. In Shyam Selvadurai’s sweeping new novel, his first in more than a decade, he creates an unforgettable ghost, a powerful Sri Lankan matriarch whose wily ways, insatiable longing for land, houses, money and control, and tragic blindness to the human needs of those around her parallels the volatile political situation of her war-torn country.

The novel centres around Shivan Rassiah, the beloved grandson, who is of mixed Tamil and Sinhalese lineage, and who also-to his grandmother’s dismay-grows from beautiful boy to striking gay man. As the novel opens in the present day, Shivan, now living in Canada, is preparing to travel back to Colombo, Sri Lanka, to rescue his elderly and ailing grandmother, to remove her from the home-now fallen into disrepair-that is her pride, and bring her to Toronto to live our her final days. But throughout the night and into the early morning hours of his departure, Shivan grapples with his own insatiable hunger and is haunted by unrelenting ghosts of his own creation.

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What one book have you read always moves you to tears?

Of the books listed above, which books have you read or are interested in reading?

Are you an emotional reader? Do some books actually make you cry?

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2 thoughts on “Top 10 Books That Will Make You Cry”

  1. Great list. I have read Half Blood Blues, A Thousand Splendid Suns and the Namesake. The absolutely saddest book I have read is Farewell Gulsary by Chinghiz Aitmatov.

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