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The Art of the Semi-Autobiographical Novel

Last weekend, we took a look at famous literary characters that were inspired by real-life people, but we admit, we held back. Not wanting to flood the field, we discounted any character based on his or her author, and chose only those based on outside sources. To assuage our interest and close the circle, we decided to follow up with a list of a few of our favorite semi-autobiographical novels — that is, novels wherein at least one character is based on the author, and usually containing a plot that revolves around the author’s true-life experiences. Click through to check out ten of our favorite semi-autobiographical novels, from the barely-veiled straight autobiographies to the masterful collages of life and fiction. We know there are hundreds and hundreds of these, so please chime in and let us know your own favorite semi-autobiographies in the comments!

We the Animals, Justin Torres

Justin Torres’s unbelievably exquisite debut novel could be described as a collection of searing anecdotes, gradually easing the narrator away from his collective self-awareness as part of three brothers (“We were six snatching hands, six stomping feet; we were brothers, boys, three little kings locked in a feud for more”) to the painful, necessary schism into “they” and “I.” He admits that he drew much of the story and characters from his own life, and when we saw him read, he laughed large at the “how autobiographical is it really?” question and shrugged, but the more he spoke, the more he seemed like his narrator. “Your consciousness is informed by your experience,” he said. “It’s just how the mind works.”

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