Book Club

5 Book to Screen Adaptations to Read

By Sera | May 8, 2022

Some people may find it redundant to read books of movies they have already watched, but as someone who loves to read, I’m here to tell you that  books are always better. In this article, Document Women will be discussing some book to screen adaptations, that in my opinion have been more popular over the years than the books they were coined from (except the recent ones of course) and we recommend that you definitely get into these books!

1. PASSING by Nella Larsen

Passing is the oldest book on our list, written in 1929, the story centres on two childhood friends, Clare and Irene whose paths cross after several years in a hotel rooftop in Chicago, their hometown, an encounter that creates a shift in their lives afterward.  Irene, who lives in Harlem with her husband and two sons, is briefly in Chicago to see her father when she stops to take a break from shopping at this hotel rooftop and is approached by someone who appears to be a white woman.

Irene, who at the moment is temporarily “passing” as a white woman in order to have access to the fancy rooftop, fears that she is about to be found out when the “white woman” reveals that she is her friend Clare, who is now living fully as a white woman and is married to a white man, whom she has a daughter with. Their meeting inspires Clare to rekindle their friendship, she writes Irene a letter inviting her to hang out before she returns to New York. During this visit, Irene meets Clare’s husband who is glaringly racist and completely oblivious to the fact that his wife is a black woman. Irene is baffled by the entire encounter and decides against keeping in touch with her friend.

Later in the book, Clare and her husband move to New York, and Clare continues to make efforts to rekindle her friendship with Irene. Reluctantly, Irene gives in and begins to include Clare in her life as a well known socialite in the Harlem Renaissance scene. Clare attends social events with Irene and her husband, integrates herself into their friendship circles and wins the heart of their acquaintances, even Irene’s husband and sons.

Irene soon becomes jealous of Clare’s “wow factor” and even begins to suspect that Clare is trying to have an affair with her husband after witnessing a disturbing encounter between the two.  Although Irene is completely appalled by Claire’s presence in their lives, her husband continues to invite Clare to their social gatherings. At one of such gatherings, trouble arises when Clare’s husband somehow appears at the event after previously finding out about Clare’s true racial identity. His unexpected appearance is the catalyst of a tragic accident that occurs, ending the book in a climatic suspense.

The title of the book, is coined from the term ‘Racial passing’ a socio-cultural phenomenon that dates back to the 18th century in Afro-American communities where light skinned afro-americans passed as white people in order to gain access to better socioeconomic opportunities. The book was well received in its time and has continued to be a major point of reference to the subject matter till this day.

The book primarily focuses on racial identity but also addresses class, sexuality and unfolds so many  truths on identity to reflect on. The film which goes by the same name premiered on Sundance and became available for streaming on Netflix late last year. The film is directed, produced and written for screen by Rebecca Hall starring the beautiful Tessa Thompson as Irene and Ruth Negga as Clare.

The film definitely passes the book to screen test as it does not stray too far away from the plot in the book. 


2. WAITING TO EXHALE by Terry McMillan   

Next on our list is another old but gold. If you are familiar with the Twitter GIF where Angela Bassett throws a man’s clothes in a car, walks up to the car, lights a cigarette and throws it into the car setting it ablaze, yes, this is the book that is based on.

Written in 1992, Waiting to exhale is the perfect depiction of what we call “chick lit.” If you are one who lives for literary drama, this book  is for you. In this absorbing and thought provoking book, the reader is absorbed into the lives of four black girlfriends in their mid 30’s, Savannah, Bernadine, Robin and Gloria who are all going through various midlife crises (mostly surrounding men) as they struggle to find and maintain what they all think is life fulfilment;  long term companionships with men.  

Savannah is an affluent and successful independent woman who has never been married but is just as tired of being single as she is tired of men in the corporate world and all their faults. Bernadine deals with divorce from an 11 year old marriage after sacrificing her dreams to take care of her family, her husband leaves her for a younger white woman, making her a single mom of two. She worries what man would still want her and her “baggage.”

Robin is a bit of a prude who is easily spun by flattery, uses sex to hold it together and has been a long term mistress to a married man who she later gets pregnant for. Gloria, who is less financially stable than the others, is a working overprotective single mom trying to raise her teenage son all by herself after her husband reveals that he is gay. She also battles with her physical appearance and wonders if a fat woman like herself will ever be desirable by men.

As the women move from one horrible experience to another their sisterhood is what truly keeps them afloat. In the end, a lot of their problems resolve themselves as they  try to take back their lives into their own hands. Terry Mcmillan writes beautifully on sisterhood and support, while this may not be the most feminist piece of literature out there; as the women’s male-centeric gaze throughout the book is often critiqued in a lot of reviews about the book.

I think it is a fair representation of the women in that era and  what happens in a world where women are conditioned to see companionship with men as what completes them.

The book is followed by a sequel Getting To Happy which was published in 2010. The movie adaptation under 20th Century Fox was released in 1995 and is star-studded with Whitney Houston as Savannah, Angela Bassett as Bernadine, Lela Rochon as Robin and Loretta Devine as Gloria. It definitely passes the book to screen test.


3. PACHINKO by Min Jin Lee

Set in the early 1900’s, Pachinko is an absolutely stunning piece of historical fiction that spans through four generations of a Koreen family in Japan, begining  with their first generation immigrant Matriarch, Sunja. The book is told in three parts around Sunja’s life from childhood until she is a grandmother in 1989 Japan. The book also highlights the backdrop of the Korean-Japan War and how it influences this family’s history.

Sunja is the only surviving child of four children to her parents, Hoonie and Yangjin. Although the book starts with Hoonie’s story, Sunja’s father, who due to a birth deformity is considered ineligible for marriage until he is match made with Yangjin, a poor farmer’s daughter. Hoonie, like his daughter, is also the only surviving child of his parents and soon takes over their lodging business after their death. During the course of Hoonie’s story, Japan annexes Korea, a major event that continues to hang in the background of this story. 

At sixteen, Sunja meets a wealthy fish broker and soon gets pregnant for him, he then reveals that he is already married but would love to take her as his mistress, which she declines and puts an end to their relationship. To avoid bringing shame to her family, Sunja agrees to a marriage proposal from a Pentecostal minister, Baek Isak, who had stayed at their family lodge and later moves away with him to Osaka, Japan, to live with his brother and sister-in-law who quickly becomes Sunja’s best friend and a major pillar of support for Sunja throughout the book. 

By part two, the novel jumps in time. Sunja is now a mom to two sons, Noa, the son of her wealthy lover and Mozasu, the son of Isak. As Japan is thrown into World War II, times get tough and Sunja, her brother and sister-in-law are unable to make ends meet. Sunja reunites with Noa’s father who had previously anonymously hired Sunja and her  sister in law to work for his hotel in order to indirectly take care of her and the children. As the war brews on, Noa’s father arranges for Sunja, her sister in-law and their kids to wait it out in the countryside where Sunja also reunites with her mother.

After the war, they all returned to Osaka. Sunja’s kids are soon grown, Noa gains admission into the university while Mozasu drops out of school and begins to work as a guard at a Pachinko parlour, from then on the story springs into Noa and Mozasu’s very different lives and that of their descendants, a series of epic timelines that we will not be able to discuss in this article.

Pachinko is an amazing story on the bonds of  family, sacrifice, identity and history. The title of the book is coined from the famous Pachinko game in Japan and Korea and is also a metaphor for how the characters’ lives have the same twist of chance  as the famous game. The story is very character driven and woven in such an exceptional way. Pachinko is one of those books you will always remember. The book was adapted for screen by Apple Inc. as a series and was released March 25th of this year. Although there are many twists in the series that differ from the plot of the book, it is still an epic representation of the book.


4. SWALLOW by Sefi Atta

Swallow is set in 1980’s Lagos, Nigeria, in the Shadows of the governments’ War Against Indiscipline; a time of outrageous rules, regulations, inhumane punishment and consequences, a time where poverty had eaten up the entire fabric of the country and left people willing to do anything to survive. 

The story focuses on two friends, Rose and Tolani, young women working hard to make ends meet in such harsh times. They both share an apartment and also work together in a Bank in Lagos. Both women are quite the opposite of each other, Tolani is seen as more reserved, cautious and modest while Rose is seen as impetuous and opinionated. The two however face their daily financial woes and the tediousness of working in Lagos together.  The book is narrated from Tolani’s perspective.

Early in the story, Rose is sacked from their bank job for refusing to accept sexual advances from the Bank manager, Rose, however is sort of relieved even though she is unsure of how she would cope considering the times. Meanwhile, Tolani is soon asked to fill in Rose’s position and begins to suffer the same fate from the odious bank manager, who constantly threatens to fire her whenever she refuses his advances.

In addition to her troubles at work, Tolani also has to deal with her unambitious boyfriend, Sanwo, who can not commit to a job or commit to her. Heeding to Rose’s advice to give Sanwo an ultimatum, Tolani presents him with one, to get his life on track and take her seriously but Sanwo gets upset and in order to appease him for fear of Sanwo leaving her, Tolani allows him to talk her into investing in one of his numerous business deals, promising large returns.

When the deal falls apart, Tolani finally gathers the courage to break up with him. On the other hand Rose, who had been unable to find a job, is thrown into the depths of desperation when she gets into a relationship with a successful but shady “business man,” QC, who had just returned from the States. Tolani is sceptical about QC and his mysterious wealth; her suspicions are proven to be true when Rose reveals to her that he is a drug dealer who uses women to transport heroin and other hard drugs through condoms they are required to swallow.

Tolani tries to talk Rose out of such a dirty business but the state of her financial condition needed to change. Tolani soon files a report against her boss for his misconduct and eventually quits her job when she realises that nothing would be done about it; she is soon thrown into a similar distressed financial condition as Rose and begins to consider her offer to become a drug courier as well.

While trying to get the hang of this swallowing business, Tolani decides to take the moral highroad  and abandon the course. The story comes to a tragic end, leaving Tolani concluding that the wretched life in the city is no place for her as she returns back to her parents’ home in her rural community. Swallow is a very Nigerian book, a classic through and through, it packs a punch and passes its lessons loud and clear.

Seffi Atta is one Nigerian author one must read! Swallow was adapted for screen by Netflix and is directed by the prestigious Kunle Afolayan, it was released in September last year. Seffi Atta was involved in the writing for the screenplay.



5. MAID: Hard work, Low Pay and a Mothers will to Survive by Stephanie Land.

Maid is the only book of non-fiction on our list. The major theme of this devastating memoir is resilience. The author, Stephenie Land uses her true life story to address poverty in America, inadequate welfare programs and public policy in America, working minimum wage jobs in America, Motherhood, Domestic Abuse and survival.

The book which became an extended version of an essay Land wrote in Vox in 2015, carries a lot of candid details about her life trying to survive working as a maid to support herself and her daughter, relying on various welfare programs to cover for food, shelter and even her daughter’s education. Land had been living with her boyfriend with barely a highschool degree when she became pregnant for him. She broke up with him and moved out of his home and into a homeless shelter when their daughter was about nine months old due to abuse. She and her daughter would continue to move  from one shelter to another as she does all it takes, working long hours and extra shifts to put a roof over her daughter’s head and food in her belly.

Land’s story is an outstanding representation of the overworked and underpaid people in America. She writes the true and untold stories of what it means to truly survive, daily striving to crawl out of poverty and the stigma that comes with surviving on government assistance. Her story reveals the dark truths of survival in the underbelly of the “great” America. She also gives the reader insights into the lives of the wealthy families she worked for and the reality of working for them, unnoticed and invincible.

Maid is such a compelling and personal book, Land really draws the reader into  all that she had been through, we see the ugliness of it all, as well as the ugliness of people towards her situation. After six years of cleaning, through the Pells grants and student loans she was able to gain admission at the University of Montana to study English and creative writing.

After her graduation in 2014, Land became a freelance writer and began to share her story with the world. She is currently an award winning writer and journalist and lives in Montana with her husband and their shared four children. Her book was adapted to screen by Netflix as a miniseries in 2021. She is set to release a second book this year.


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