Like many other readers, I have a fascination with the WWII genre. These stories give me insight into the time period when my grandfather was fighting a war across the world and my grandma was raising children on the home front. These are the times I never asked enough about. Even so, their answers and experiences, had asked all the questions I wish I would have, would be vastly different than those of someone living in occupied France or being bombed in London or experiencing the horrors in Germany and Eastern Europe.
Soon, as this generation leaves us, all we will have left are stories. Thankfully the authors whose books I profile below and others like them have done the daunting amount of work to recreate these experiences. Yes, it may be historical “fiction” but most of these authors spent years researching and interviewing survivors. I learned more about historical events from these books than I ever did in a class.
These stories are not always enjoyable. Parts of them are horrifying. So why put myself through this and why recommend this reading to you? For me it is a way to honor everything that was sacrificed and everyone who was lost. I also enjoy looking for the good and the helpers in the tragedies. It is also self-reflective: What would I have done? How would I have handled that experience or horror? For what it’s worth, after reading all of these books, I have a better understanding of this time period, human nature, and myself.
I will continue adding to this list because I have several other books in my queue so stay tuned.
A WWII Historical Fiction Reading List
I have read (and enjoyed!) all of these books and blogged about most of them (links to past blog posts included below). You can click on the book or the title to purchase from Amazon.
Manhattan Beach: A Novel (2017)
This book is set in the United States during wartime and has a strong woman character who becomes the first female Naval diver but there is SO MUCH more to this book, which I loved.
The Women in the Castle by Jessica Shattuck (2017)
A book about a makeshift family of German women and children who are tied to the resistance as they try to heal and forgive. This is my most recent read of this genre. Read my blog post here.
Also released this year:
A Bridge Across the Ocean by Susan Messner (2017)
This was a WWII read with a twist. Read how in my blog post here.
Also published earlier this year:
The Orphan’s Tale: A Novel by Pam Jenoff (2017)
I loved this book about a circus troupe during WWII. Read more in my blog post here.
Last year’s sensation:
Lilac Girls: A Novel by Martha Hall Kelly (2016)
From my blog post: “The beautiful book cover projects friendship (three women walking arm in arm) and did not prepare me for the horrors described within its pages, specifically the descriptions of the Ravensbruck concentration camp, the only major concentration camp for women in Germany.”
Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave (2016)
This was a engrossing read about “The Blitz,” when London is bombed for 57 consecutive nights during 1940-41. I summarized it in a RELATED POST: Everyone Brave is Forgiven.
The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah (2015)
I loved this book about two sisters living in German-occupied France who moved beyond survival mode to actively aid the resistance movement. My blog post is here: RELATED POST The Nightingale
Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys (2016)
This book switches among the perspectives of four teenagers as they try to flee Russian occupied territory (one of the perspectives is a Nazi sailor). It is a Young Adult read and not my favorite, but I still found it to be a good refugee perspective and exposes the plight of those hanging their hopes on the Wilhelm Gustloff, a ship promising safety and freedom. I recommend it for to those who enjoy YA reads or young adults who want to start in this genre.
The Book Thief by Markus Zusack (2005)
As I look over my list, I realize this book might have affected me the most. I blogged about why it was a favorite here: RELATED POST: The Book Thief is unforgettable. I liked it so much that I just could not watch the movie!
Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand (2010)
Note this book actually non-fiction.
This is the most unbelievable-believable story I have ever read. The story of survival of a downed U.S. airman in 1943, it provides a good perspective of the “Pacific theater” of WWII, lacking from most of my other selections.
From Here to Eternity is the first WWII book I ever read…decades ago. I’d like to re-read it because one scene from the end still sticks in my mind. Although this book takes place before America entered the war (the author witnessed the attack on Pearl Harbor) it is still a magnificent description of a soldier’s life and a different viewpoint than most of the others on my list. It is the first of a trilogy; I haven’t yet read the other two…I’ve heard the second book The Thin Red Line is excellent. It gives an account of the battle between American and Japanese troops on the island of Guadalcanal.
The Zookeeper’s Wife: A War Story by Diane Ackerman (2008)
I liked this book and it is a great story of people who did all they could to help others. It reads more like a historical news story rather than a novel, which is different than all the others on this list. I’m looking forward to seeing the movie and plan to write my post after that.
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr (2014)
I am going to end my list with the Pulitzer-Prize winning bestseller and also my favorite. This masterpiece tells the stories of a blind French girl and a conflicted Nazi-youth, both coming of age in WWII Europe. If you haven’t already read this, save it for last because you may be comparing all others to it!
My thoughts are here: RELATED POST: All the Light we Cannot See, the glorious sea, and Clare de Lune
What are your favorites here or what would you add to this list?
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