Hello from Berlin! I’m sorry I’ve been a bit behind on this weeks post. We arrived in Berlin from Nepal a few days ago and have spent a few days relaxing and recovering from not just two months of travelling, but also the shock of being in the Nepal earthquake just before we left. We were in the plane on the runway when it hit. I expect that’s probably about the safest place we could have been but we could see the dust and smoke rising over the city out the window. We were waiting in the plane for about 5 hours before take off and I suspect we were one of a very small number of flights to leave the country in the immediate aftermath. My heart goes out to the people who remain behind. I may have felt traumatized by the experience but at least I have not lost my home, my livelihood or my family like so many have.
Anyway, this wasn’t meant to be a travel or earthquake rant and I’ll save the rest for when I get up to date with my travel blog.
I have been on a buzz of reading historical fiction while I have been travelling over the last few months and thought I’d do a top ten list for you all. I have a particular love of World War Two fiction which started when I was at home sick one day in intermediate and my mum gave me Vienna Prelude by Bodie and Brock Thoene to read. It was the first ‘grown up’ book I had read and I devoured it. It had action, romance, spies… and so my love of war novels was born.
Here are my fave WWII novels. You can click the title and it should take you to the goodreads info for that book for more info.
1. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
This is one of my all time favourite books. You can read my review of it here but if you haven’t read it yet then I definitely think you should! It gives some insight into life in Nazi Germany and I think it is particularly powerful in showing the humanity of Germans and Jews alike during the war. There is a hidden Jew like in Anne Frank, a wise man like Atticus Finch, and a coming of age for a young German girl. There’s also a movie adaptation which is lovely, but as always I am a loyal fan of the book first and foremost.
2. Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
I loved this story. It’s about two girls who are both contributing to the war effort in different ways. The story is told from the confines of a cell in a ‘confessional’ style as the main character offers up information to her captors in exchange for small privileges. The friendship between these two girls is so lovely and I love the way they are so courageous. You can read my review if you want more reasons to read it!
3. The Bronze Horseman by Paullina Simons
Oh my gosh I am obsessed with this book! It’s probably the only WWII novel I’ve read that’s set in Russia which in itself is cool. It is an epic romance with so many obstacles and complications. Somehow it manages to convey so much of the brutality and horror of war without being set on the front lines, and without being any less of a love story. I was thinking about it for at least a week after I finished it and I’m so excited for the sequel to arrive in the mail any day now!
4. Vienna Prelude (Zion Covenany #1) by Bodie and Brock Thoene
As mentioned earlier, I read this a long time ago and loved it. It’s the start of quite a long series and is one of the best Christian novels I have read (that’s another top ten list I want to do soon!). The authors are a husband and wife and both are historians and they write books
together which I think is pretty cute. In the series there are a lot of characters and perspectives but the main character is a girl who is half Jewish and half German but she somehow has papers for both and secretly works as a courier of important documents which she smuggles in her violin. I can’t remember heaps more than that but I really want to read the series again soon!
5. Sarah’s Key by Tatiana De Rosnay
In some ways I guess this isn’t a conventional World War Two novel as it is set half in modern France and half France during WWII. However, the central focus is definitely on understanding the horror of the second world war and the atrocities committed. You can read my review of it here if you would like to know more.
6. Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl
I went through most of my life thinking I knew all about Anne Frank and that I had read her diary, but either I read a highly edited version for children or I hadn’t read it at all until a couple of years ago. It really is a private journal and as well as hearing about day to day life you are privy to Anne’s personal reflections on her own character and life, as well as love and relationships. I read it when we were in Amsterdam travelling and it was very powerful to then visit Anne Frank Haus and know that it was written within those very walls. If you haven’t yet read it please do so!
7. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Schaffer and Annie Barrows
I read this only recently over the new year and it just was so wonderful. Again, it’s not really a conventional war novel in that it’s not set during the war, instead it fits into the aftermath and brings together a number of anecdotal stories of what life was like, particularly under German occupation of the island of Guernsey in the English Channel. I love the idea that a book club could offer hope and strength to people in times of such suffering and bring a community together. Again, you can read my review here.
8. Maus by Art Spiegelman
This is a wonderful graphic novel which I studied at university. It’s a long time since I read it but it’s based on the life of Spiegelman’s father who was a Polish Jew and lived through the holocaust. He uses symbolic animals to represent the different racial groups in the war which is interesting in itself. It’s a bit of a heavy read in terms of content but it’s definitely worthwhile. I only bought part one (poor student) and I remember sitting covertly in the university book shop and reading part two!
9. Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein
This is the sequel to Code Name Verity. It’s a new character and storyline, but you do hear a little about the characters of Code Name Verity. Rose is a pilot but ends up captured and imprisoned in Ravensbruck, a women’s concentration camp near Berlin. It’s a harrowing insight into what women endured in concentration camps. I had never heard of Ravensbruck until reading this book, and it’s something I would like to learn more about. On my to-read list is If this is a Woman: Inside Ravensbruck – Hitler’s Concentration Camps for Women by Sarah Helm. It was only published last year so I haven’t gotten to it yet.
10. Charlotte Gray by Sebastian Faulks
I asked a good friend of mine what her favorite World War Two novel was and this was her pick. I read it based on her recommendation and really enjoyed it. I like the way it depicts one individual’s personal struggles within the context of the worldwide struggle of war. Charlotte becomes involved in the war effort due to her excellent French and ends up in France and helping with the French resistance. There is also a love story between Charlotte and a RAF pilot who also ends up in France. As a side note, I also just read Birdsong – also by Sebastian Faulks which is the first in Faulks’ French Trilogy and would suggest that first because while they do work as stand alone books I wish I had read them in order! I still need to read the middle book, The Girl at the Lion d’Or.
I realized after I had the idea for this post that it would make a lot more sense to do a World War One list of books given that ANZAC Day was happening and there are so many 100 years commemorations for other WWI events. But, when I brainstormed I really hadn’t read that many which fit the category properly. So I am currently making a conscious effort to read more World War One literature.
I don’t know if it’s just me, but there really seem to be more books set in World War Two. I wonder if it is because there is a clearer symbolism of good versus evil in the WWII, while the forces in action that led to WWI are more difficult to grasp. I’d love to hear people’s thoughts on this. Maybe I’m totally on the wrong track!
Do you enjoy novels set in World War One or World War Two? What are your favorite war novels?