8 Debut Novels that Shot Their Authors to Fame

Writing a novel is hard work. Multiple drafts go into writing one, yet a writer cannot be sure if their novel will appeal to its readers. Sometimes, it takes many attempts before a writer can produce a piece that makes them a household name and gives them their readers’ love. However, there have also been instances where an author has hit it out of the park on their first attempt, releasing debut novels that solidify their image as a canonised classic, or a deeply successful and popular author. Here are eight such debut novels that have single-handedly catapulted their authors to eternal fame.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Harper Lee’s first, and for a long time her only, novel was published in 1960 and immediately garnered immense success. Narrated by Scout, a young girl, the novel is both a coming-of-age story as well as an exploration of a problematic society wherein racism and prejudice run rife. Scout’s father Atticus Finch, an upright man who stands for justice in the face of danger and social ostracization, and Boo Radley, a reclusive neighbour who is an object of fear and curiosity and fear among the children of the neighbourhood, have captured the imagination of more than one generation of readers. The book was also adapted into a feature film starring Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch, who went on to win an Academy Award for this role.

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

Set in Kabul and covering a period of socio-political upheaval as the Taliban took over the reins and controlled the entirety of Afghan society, The Kite Runner is the story of two boys, a rich Pashtun boy Amir and a poor Hazara kid Hassan. While their friendship is strained during a kite-fighting tournament, Amir walks in on Hassan being sexually abused by a group of older boys but does nothing to protect him. Soon after, Amir escapes to America with his father while Hassan is left behind. Decades later, Amir returns to rescue Sohrab, Hassan’s son, to learn that Sohrab had been left an orphan. Published in 2003, this poignant tale of friendship and redemption captured the imagination of millions of readers across the globe.

Carrie by Stephen King

King’s first novel, Carrie, tells the story of a young girl who is bullied mercilessly in school. With a family who is no better than her classmates, she is living a difficult life till she discovers her telekinetic powers and decides to wreak havoc upon those who have tormented her. Although it was immensely successful upon publication, King had initially disliked the idea and thrown his draft away, only for it to be rescued by his wife who believed in the book’s promise and helped him complete this iconic bestseller. 

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

Translated from the Swedish, A Man Called Ove is a delightful, heart-warming novel that centres on Ove, an elderly curmudgeon whose life changes for the better when a young family moves into his neighbourhood and is hell-bent upon making friends with him. Dealing with themes like love, loss and the power of friendship, A Man Called Ove has been hugely successful and received the love of thousands of readers. Its movie adaptation, A Man Called Otto, featuring Tom Hanks in the titular role was released in 2022 and is available for rent on Prime Video.

The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

Toni Morrison’s debut novel The Bluest Eye was published in 1970. The novel tells the story of Pecola Breedlove, an eleven-year-old African-American girl who has internalised the socially accepted narrow standard of beauty, aspiring to have the bluest eye, staunchly holding on to the promise that blue eyes and white skin seem to represent. Divided into four sections and narrated by multiple narrators, The Bluest Eye has all the quintessential features of a Morrison novel. Morrison said that the novel, which started as a short story, had roots in real life as one of her childhood, loosely based on friends who longed to have blue eyes. Poignant, powerful and moving, The Bluest Eye is a must-read.

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

Chinua Achebe’s debut novel Things Fall Apart deals with the intrusion of white missionaries into the life and culture of the Igbo people and the disastrous consequences that follow. The book has been instrumental in changing the landscape of African literature and has been included in BBC’s list of “100 Novels that Shaped Our World.” Written as an answer to the primarily white narratives that presented Africa as a dark place inhabited by people who were primitive, the novel has been translated into multiple languages and has also been adapted for stage. 

White Teeth by Zadie Smith

Zadie Smith’s White Teeth was published to immediate recognition in 2000 and won many prestigious awards. White Teeth tells the story of the friendship and life of two characters, British Archie Jones and Bangladeshi Samad Iqbal who live in London. The novel covers a period of close to fifty years and through the story of these two characters, comments on the relationship of the British with that of the commonwealth. Themes like migration, race, identity and friendship are explored in depth by Smith in White Teeth which has also been adapted into a limited series.

The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan

Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club is the story of four Chinese immigrant mothers and their Americanised daughters. The story is told in the form of different vignettes and is narrated by the mothers who gather to play mah-jong and swap stories of their past along with complaints about their daughters who have become cut-off from their culture. Tan brings out the themes of cultural and generational differences that plague the families of immigrants living far away from their original country in the book. The Joy Luck Club is also a part of the Penguin Drop Caps series which features writers like Proust, Joyce and Flaubert.

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Dr Sneha Pathak

About the Reviewer:-

Sneha Pathak has a PhD in English Literature and has taught at the collegiate and university level. She currently works as a freelance writer/translator. Her writings have appeared in various publications such as Muse India, Purple Pencil Project, The Wise Owl Magazine, The Curious Reader, Mystery and Suspense Magazine etc. She recently published her first book of translation, an anthology of stories translated from Hindi. Follow her here: Instagram

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