Five great books set in San Francisco

6th May 2018

San Francisco is the latest destination in our ‘Great books set in…’ series. Five great book set in San Francisco.

Photo credit. SFSKYLINE

The Summer of Love. Golden Gate Bridge. Alcatraz. Cable cars. Fisherman’s Wharf. Chinatown. Sexual freedom. Silicon Valley.

So many iconic images and eras that help to define this haven of liberal mores on the west coast of the US, and so many books that help to evoke the literary spirit of this great Californian city. Here are just five from the TripFiction database to take with you on holiday to San Francisco – or to pick up at home for some vicarious travelling – to enjoy a little literary wanderlust.

1.  Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin

San Francisco, 1976. A naïve young secretary, fresh out of Cleveland, tumbles headlong into a brave new world of laundromat Lotharios, pot-growing landladies, cut throat debutantes, and Jockey Shorts dance contests. The saga that ensues is manic, romantic, tawdry, touching, and outrageous – unmistakably the handiwork of Armistead Maupin.

Tales of the City and the further eight novels in this enchanting series probably capture San Francisco – and its sexually liberated characters – more than any other literary output before or since. The earlier stories were originally serialised in the city’s newspapers, and Mary Ann Singleton, marijuana-growing landlady Anna Madrigal, bisexual Mona Ramsey, lothario Brian Hawkins and gay Michael – ‘Mouse’ – Tolliver all became much-loved characters in the city, across the US and eventually around the globe.

2. The Golden Gate by Vikram Seth

The Golden Gate is a brilliantly achieved novel written in verse.

Set in the 1980s in the affluence and sunshine of California’s Silicon Valley, it is an exuberant and witty story of twenty-somethings looking for love, pleasure and the meaning of life.

It was awarded the 1986 British Airways Commonwealth Poetry Prize

3. China Dolls by Lisa See

It’s 1938 and the exclusive Oriental nightclub in San Francisco’s Forbidden City is holding auditions for showgirls. In the dark, scandalous glamour of the club, three girls from very different backgrounds stumble into each other lives.

All the girls have secrets. Grace, an American-born Chinese girl, has fled the Midwest and an abusive father. Helen is from a Chinese family which has deep roots in San Francisco’s Chinatown. And, as both her friends know, Ruby is Japanese passing as Chinese.

Then, in a heartbeat, everything changes. The Japanese attack Pearl Harbor and paranoia, suspicion, and a shocking act of betrayal, threaten to destroy their lives.

4. A Message to Your Heart by Niamh Greene

Niamh Greene’s delightful fifth novel A Message to Your Heart is an intriguing and heart-warming story for fans of the wise humour of Catherine Alliott and the modern day fairytales of Cecelia Ahern. Throw in Niamh’s unique brand of heart-warming storytelling and readers are in for a real treat.

Frankie Rowley is far too practical to believe in karma or fate … and her family and friends reckon that work-obsessed Frankie’s strongest relationship is with her phone. (And why not? At least it never judges her for cancelling dinner for the umpteenth time.)

When she loses that precious phone on a business trip to San Francisco, Frankie is forced to hire a replacement. Soon she’s getting texts meant for someone else – a woman called Aimee who seems like a lot of fun, and whose family clearly loves to keep in touch – and whose presence in her life is the last thing Frankie needs.

Frankie goes on the warpath, but she is in for some surprises when she blunders into Aimee’s world. And the biggest surprise of all is how your life can be changed forever by losing a phone. Frankie may not believe in karma or fate, but suddenly it looks like they’ve got her number …

5. The Bonesetter’s Daughter by Amy Tan

LuLing Young is in her eighties, and finally beginning to feel the effects of old age. Trying to hold on to the evaporating past, she begins to write down all that she can remember of her life as a girl in China. Meanwhile, her daughter Ruth, a ghostwriter for authors of self-help books, is losing the ability to speak up for herself in front of the man she lives with. LuLing can only look on, helpless: her prickly relationship with her daughter does not make it easy to discuss such matters. In turn, Ruth has begun to suspect that something is wrong with her mother: she says so many confusing and contradictory things.

Ruth decides to move in with her ailing mother, and while tending to her discovers the story LuLing wrote in Chinese, of her tumultuous life growing up in a remote mountain village known as Immortal Heart. LuLing tells of the secrets passed along by her mute nursemaid, Precious Auntie; of a cave where dragon bones are mined and where Peking Man was discovered; of the crumbling ravine known as the End of the World, where Precious Auntie’s bones lie, and of the curse that LuLing believes she released through betrayal. Like layers of sediment being removed, each page unfolds into an even greater mystery: Who was Precious Auntie, whose suicide changed the path of LuLing’s life?

Set in contemporary San Francisco and pre-war China, ‘The Bonesetter’s Daughter’ is an excavation of the human spirit. With great warmth and humour, Amy Tan gives us a mesmerising story of a mother and daughter discovering together that what they share in their bones through history and heredity is priceless beyond measure.

Andrew for the TripFiction Team

Which titles would you add to the list? Remember there are more than 30 to choose from in the San Francisco listings on TripFiction…! Each will transport you to some excellent fiction, travelogues or memoirs set in this fascinating city. Or you may have your own favourites you would like to add. Please leave your thoughts in the Comments box below.

Other posts in our ‘Five great books set in…’ series include:

Five great books set in Naples

Five great books set in Dublin

Five great books set in Dubai

Five great books set in Portugal

And posts in our ‘Ten great books set in…’ series include:

Ten great books set in Paris

Ten great books set in New York

Ten great books set in London

Ten great book set in Rome

Ten great book set in Berlin

Ten great books set in Russia

Ten great books set in Spain

Ten great books set in Amsterdam

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