I am a huge fan of historical fiction, as well as historical non-fiction. I just recently finished reading The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank for the first time (loved it!), and it made me think about all of the great literature out there about WWII. I thought it would be fun to make a list of my favorite books from that era of history.
The Room on Rue Amélie by Kristin Harmel
When newlywed Ruby Henderson Benoit arrives in Paris in 1939 with her French husband Marcel, she imagines strolling arm in arm along the grand boulevards, awash in the golden afternoon light. But war is looming on the horizon, and as France falls to the Nazis, her marriage begins to splinter, too.
Charlotte Dacher is eleven when the Germans roll into the French capital, their sinister swastika flags snapping in the breeze. After the Jewish restrictions take effect and Jews are ordered to wear the yellow star, Charlotte can’t imagine things getting much worse. But then the mass deportations begin, and her life is ripped forever apart.
Thomas Clarke joins the British Royal Air Force to protect his country, but when his beloved mother dies in a German bombing during the waning days of the Blitz, he wonders if he’s really making a difference. Then he finds himself in Paris, in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower, and he discovers a new reason to keep fighting—and an unexpected road home.
When fate brings them together, Ruby, Charlotte, and Thomas must summon the courage to defy the Nazis—and to open their own broken hearts—as they fight to survive. Rich with historical drama and emotional depth, this is an unforgettable story that will stay with you long after the final page is turned.
~~ I have waxed poetic about The Room on Rue Amélie for quite a long time, so if you have spent any time here on my blog, you know how much I love this book! The triple perspective is extremely well done. It never feels disjointed, like you are being pulled from one character to the next. It covers parts of the war that I didn’t know about before, and I love learning new things. If you want to hear more about what I thought of this book, go and read my review!
The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
Discovered in the attic in which she spent the last years of her life, Anne Frank’s remarkable diary has become a world classic—a powerful reminder of the horrors of war and an eloquent testament to the human spirit.
In 1942, with the Nazis occupying Holland, a thirteen-year-old Jewish girl and her family fled their home in Amsterdam and went into hiding. For the next two years, until their whereabouts were betrayed to the Gestapo, the Franks and another family lived cloistered in the “Secret Annexe” of an old office building. Cut off from the outside world, they faced hunger, boredom, the constant cruelties of living in confined quarters, and the ever-present threat of discovery and death. In her diary Anne Frank recorded vivid impressions of her experiences during this period. By turns thoughtful, moving, and surprisingly humorous, her account offers a fascinating commentary on human courage and frailty and a compelling self-portrait of a sensitive and spirited young woman whose promise was tragically cut short.
~~I just finished reading The Diary of a Young Girl for the first time, and it was fantastic. I’ve seen the movie and the play, and heard my older sister talk about it for years, but for some reason I just never picked it up. If you have any interest in WWII, this is a must read. I am still in awe that she started writing this diary when she was only 13! She was an amazing writer, and would have gone on to do amazing things. I wasn’t anticipating learning so much about the state of the actual war from a teenager’s diary. A fantastic read – especially if you aren’t generally a fan of non-fiction.
Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
Oct. 11th, 1943 – A British spy plane crashes in Nazi-occupied France. Its pilot and passenger are best friends. One of the girls has a chance at survival. The other has lost the game before it’s barely begun.
When “Verity” is arrested by the Gestapo, she’s sure she doesn’t stand a chance. As a secret agent captured in enemy territory, she’s living a spy’s worst nightmare. Her Nazi interrogators give her a simple choice: reveal her mission or face a grisly execution.
As she intricately weaves her confession, Verity uncovers her past, how she became friends with the pilot Maddie, and why she left Maddie in the wrecked fuselage of their plane. On each new scrap of paper, Verity battles for her life, confronting her views on courage and failure and her desperate hope to make it home. But will trading her secrets be enough to save her from the enemy?
Harrowing and beautifully written, Elizabeth Wein creates a visceral read of danger, resolve, and survival that shows just how far true friends will go to save each other. Code Name Verity is an outstanding novel that will stick with you long after the last page.
~~Code Name Verity was recommended to me by a friend, and I am so glad that I listened. The beginning of the book was a bit confusing (I wasn’t sure exactly who the narrator was talking to), but as the book went on I became absolutely intrigued. This was a side of the war that I had absolutely no prior knowledge of. I didn’t realize that there were women actually flying planes or parachuting into enemy territory. It was fascinating and heartbreaking.
Daughter of Moloka’i by Alan Brennert
DAUGHTER OF MOLOKA′I is the highly anticipated sequel to Alan Brennert’s acclaimed book club favorite, and national bestseller, MOLOKA′I. It’s a companion tale that tells the story of Ruth, the daughter that Rachel Kalama—quarantined for most of her life at the isolated leprosy settlement of Kalaupapa—was forced to give up at birth.
The book follows young Ruth from her arrival at the Kapi’olani Home for Girls in Honolulu, to her adoption by a Japanese couple who raise her on a farm in California, her marriage and unjust internment at Manzanar Relocation Camp during World War II—and then, after the war, to the life-altering day when she receives a letter from a woman who says she is Ruth’s birth mother, Rachel.
DAUGHTER OF MOLOKA′I expands upon Ruth and Rachel’s 22-year relationship, only hinted at in MOLOKA′I. It’s a richly emotional tale of two women—different in some ways, similar in others—who never expected to meet, much less come to love, one another. And for Ruth it is a story of discovery, the unfolding of a past she knew nothing about. In prose that conjures up the beauty and history of both Hawaiian and Japanese cultures, it’s the powerful and poignant tale that readers of MOLOKA′I have been awaiting for fifteen years.
~~Again, Daughter of Moloka’i covers a part of WWII that I didn’t know anything about. Apparently that is something that I really appreciate in a good WWII book! This book starts off years before the war, but the part that was the most fascinating to me was the time that the characters spent in the American Japanese relocation camps. This is a part of American history that I knew nothing about, and I’m sure that our history books would rather forget. You can read more of my thoughts on this book in my review.
The Librarian of Auschwitz by Antonio Iturbe
Fourteen-year-old Dita is one of the many imprisoned by the Nazis at Auschwitz. Taken, along with her mother and father, from the Terezín ghetto in Prague, Dita is adjusting to the constant terror that is life in the camp. When Jewish leader Freddy Hirsch asks Dita to take charge of the eight precious books the prisoners have managed to smuggle past the guards, she agrees. And so Dita becomes the secret librarian of Auschwitz, responsible for the safekeeping of the small collection of titles, as well as the ‘living books’ – prisoners of Auschwitz who know certain books so well, they too can be ‘borrowed’ to educate the children in the camp.
But books are extremely dangerous. They make people think. And nowhere are they more dangerous than in Block 31 of Auschwitz, the children’s block, where the slightest transgression can result in execution, no matter how young the transgressor…
~~I didn’t realize that The Librarian of Auschwitz was based on a true story until I got to the end of the book. The author was actually able to interview Dita, which just makes the entire book even more amazing. It is a work of historical fiction, but knowing that it is based on a first hand account just sends chills down my spine.
Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys
World War II is drawing to a close in East Prussia and thousands of refugees are on a desperate trek toward freedom, many with something to hide. Among them are Joana, Emilia, and Florian, whose paths converge en route to the ship that promises salvation, the Wilhelm Gustloff. Forced by circumstance to unite, the three find their strength, courage, and trust in each other tested with each step closer to safety.
Just when it seems freedom is within their grasp, tragedy strikes. Not country, nor culture, nor status matter as all ten thousand people—adults and children alike—aboard must fight for the same thing: survival.
~~Before reading Salt to the Sea, I had never heard of the tragedy of the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff. With how obsessed I am with the Titanic, you would think that this would have been on my radar already, but this seems to be another part of history that the history books would rather forget. I loved the multiple perspectives in this book as well. Seeing how all of their stories eventually intertwine was wonderful to discover.
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
January 1946: London is emerging from the shadow of the Second World War, and writer Juliet Ashton is looking for her next book subject. Who could imagine that she would find it in a letter from a man she’s never met, a native of the island of Guernsey, who has come across her name written inside a book by Charles Lamb…
As Juliet and her new correspondent exchange letters, Juliet is drawn into the world of this man and his friends—and what a wonderfully eccentric world it is. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society—born as a spur-of-the-moment alibi when its members were discovered breaking curfew by the Germans occupying their island—boasts a charming, funny, deeply human cast of characters, from pig farmers to phrenologists, literature lovers all.
Juliet begins a remarkable correspondence with the society’s members, learning about their island, their taste in books, and the impact the recent German occupation has had on their lives. Captivated by their stories, she sets sail for Guernsey, and what she finds will change her forever.
Written with warmth and humor as a series of letters, this novel is a celebration of the written word in all its guises and of finding connection in the most surprising ways.
~~I love a good epistolary novel, and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society delivers. This is such a great story. It kept me turning the pages ravenously, wanting to know what was going to come next. The relationships between the characters are the shining star in this novel, though the historical context is fantastically written as well.
The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer
Paris, 1937. Andras Lévi, a Hungarian Jewish architecture student, arrives from Budapest with a scholarship, a single suitcase, and a mysterious letter he has promised to deliver to C. Morgenstern on the rue de Sévigné. As he becomes involved with the letter’s recipient, his elder brother takes up medical studies in Modena, their younger brother leaves school for the stage—and Europe’s unfolding tragedy sends each of their lives into terrifying uncertainty.
From the Hungarian village of Konyár to the grand opera houses of Budapest and Paris, from the lonely chill of Andras’s garret to the enduring passion he discovers on the rue de Sévigné, from the despair of a Carpathian winter to an unimaginable life in forced labor camps and beyond, The Invisible Bridge tells the unforgettable story of brothers bound by history and love, of a marriage tested by disaster, of a Jewish family’s struggle against annihilation, and of the dangerous power of art in a time of war.
~~The Invisible Bridge tells the story of Paris in WWII beautifully. Seeing how each of the brothers ends up enduring through the war, and the different ways that they struggle, was hard to read in the best way.
All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
From the highly acclaimed, multiple award-winning Anthony Doerr, the stunningly beautiful instant New York Times bestseller about a blind French girl and a German boy whose paths collide in occupied France as both try to survive the devastation of World War II.
Marie-Laure lives in Paris near the Museum of Natural History, where her father works. When she is twelve, the Nazis occupy Paris and father and daughter flee to the walled citadel of Saint-Malo, where Marie-Laure’s reclusive great uncle lives in a tall house by the sea. With them they carry what might be the museum’s most valuable and dangerous jewel.
In a mining town in Germany, Werner Pfennig, an orphan, grows up with his younger sister, enchanted by a crude radio they find that brings them news and stories from places they have never seen or imagined. Werner becomes an expert at building and fixing these crucial new instruments and is enlisted to use his talent to track down the resistance. Deftly interweaving the lives of Marie-Laure and Werner, Doerr illuminates the ways, against all odds, people try to be good to one another.
~~All The Light We Cannot See was such an interesting read because you get to “see” the war from the perspective of a blind girl. It gave a new dimension to the tragedy that I have never encountered in any other book about this time period. I loved seeing the two story lines intersect.
What are some of your favorite books about WWII? Are you more of a historical fiction or non-fiction fan? Have you read any of the books I’ve listed here? Let’s talk in the comments!
Love and happy reading,