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We just wrapped up part 1 of the Things Good Readers Do series last week, and I thought I’d give you a book list post before we move on to part two.
I’ve been finding a lot of recently-ish published WWII historical fiction and nonfiction books that have knocked my reading socks off, so I wanted to share them with you – along with a few oldies but goodies.
I was kind of surprised to see how many of these were written by women and/or feature female protagonists. I suppose, though, most of the men were off on the front lines, so the resistance stories may have had more women? There are some male resistance fighter in these books, too. But it’s just an interesting observation.
Nonfiction – Biographies/Autobiographies
The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom and John and Elizabeth Sherrill
This book will forever hold a special place in my heart. It was given to me as a high school graduation gift by an amazing woman of God, and I read it almost like a devotional book during my freshman year of college. It was one of very few books I took with me to college, and, for some reason, the ways that the Sherrills told Corrie’s story just resonated with me that year.
They did such a phenomenal job telling story of herchildhood to her adulthood of helping the Jews, all the way through the excruciating, yet miraculous period she spent in a concentration camp. Her grace and forgiveness toward the Nazis is convicting and a testimony to the love and forgiveness of Christ toward us all. I’d like to be like her when I grow up someday.
Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand
One of three books on this list written about a man, it is another astonishing story of survival against all odds. It became a movie at some point, so you may have watched that. I remember the book feeling a bit drawn out in some parts where I thought “Just get to the intense parts of the story already!,” but once she did, hoo boy, what a man! Louis Zamperini’s sheer will to survive leaves me speechless.
This man is incredible. I mean, he got into all sorts of trouble as a teenager, made it to the Olympics for track, then became a pilot during WWII. That’s enough for two lifetimes. Yet when he crashed in the middle of the Pacific and was missed by rescue crews, he somehow managed to survive being on the ocean and being a prisoner of war after that – and survived with grace and forgiveness in his heart. Like I said, incredible.
The Boy on the Wooden Box by Leon Leyson
While his writing style is a bit choppy at some points, his story in and of itself is a testament to the goodness of people in the midst of the evil of the Nazis. Leon Leyson’s dad began working for Schindler (as in, Schindler’s list) soon after the war started, and that fact saved all of their lives. His mom, sister, and he all ended up working at the factory, even though Leon was so small that he had to stand on a wooden box to reach the machine. And Schindler made sure he ended up on his list of people who were saved from Auschwitz/Birkenau – even though he didn’t turn out anywhere near the quota of a grown man.
I haven’t ever watched Schindler’s List, but I found Leyson’s take on this enigmatic man fascinating – along with his own story of survival. I’m so glad he decided to share his story both in speeches and in book form.
A Woman of No Importance by Sonia Purnell
I finished reading this one in early April, and while it is a well-researched biography, it reads more like a novel at some points. There were a few parts where it felt a tad dry or information was spotty – if it had been based on a true story, I’m sure the author would have spiced things up and filled in the holes with fiction. However, the fact that so much of the information was what Ms. Purnell had to dig up herself, there is an astounding amount! And I liked it when the author was acknowledged that there wasn’t information to be found and gave the reason, because it helped an otherwise astounding story feel a little more real.
The Things We Cannot Say by Kelly Rimmer
I reviewed this book in March, and I’m not sure I have much more to say. The author’s style drew me in as she wove back and forth between Alina’s story in the 1940s with present-day Alice’s life. Somehow, she makes both stories feel accessible – the difficulties of having a gifted daughter and son with autism (Alice) and the perils and heartache of the German occupation (Alina). Trust me when I say you won’t regret reading this book.
The Book of Lost Names by Kristin Harmel
What has stuck with me about this phenomenal book was the way the author brought her research about paper forgers during WWII to life. She wove in some real names and places where the French Resistance helped a lot of people escape. I found it fascinating to learn about a part of the Resistance I hadn’t ever really learned about before. I didn’t love love the ending, because it didn’t feel realistic. But I loved the whole rest of the book. There is one open door scene near the end, just a heads up, and some bloody scenes as well. Read the review I wrote in January here.
Code Name Hélène by Ariel Lawhon
This was the first WWII historical fiction book that took place primarily in the middle of France. Most of the ones I’d read were in Poland and other more northern European countries, so I found this tale fascinating. When I read A Woman of No Importance, I actually found a few crossover mentions of people and facts, which I love! But this story is based on the true story of another strong woman who headed up parts of the Resistance in France.
I found Nancy Wake’s character fascinating: just as Virginia Hall (A Woman of No Importance) found, to be a woman in a leadership position, Nancy had to prove herself – including with her the amount of alcohol she could imbibe without becoming drunk. Her bravery, commitment to fighting for freedom, and her story itself brought me to tears. Read my earlier review here.
Beneath a Scarlet Sky by Mark Sullivan
Finally, we have a book written by a man and about a male protagonist! This story, also based on a real person’s life, was nearly unbelievable. Pino Lella was only in his late teens when the Nazis took over Italy. Yet despite his youth (or perhaps because of it), he was able to do immense things to fight the Nazis. He took numerous people on a treacherous journey over the Alps to freedom in Switzerland and later was a driver for one of the highest ranking Nazis in Italy, where he learned valuable information to pass on to the Resistance. His story is heart-wrenching – it was hard to know who was on which side, and hard to lose loved ones – yet he displayed great strength of character and faithfulness.
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
This is one of those old but good ones. I didn’t read it until last year. The narrator is mysterious – and then a bit unsettling once you figure out who it is. And he “gives away” the end of my favorite character. But the story of a precious Jewish girl, Liesel, who is sheltered (and really adopted) by a cantankerous woman and her soft-hearted husband, at great risk to themselves, is riveting nonetheless. I found it particularly poignant how Liesel learned to read, and loved books beyond all reason (enough to steal them) even in the throes of wartime. Even when humans are in survival mode, there still seem to be some things that are “normal” and true of the human experience.
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
This is one of those few where I watched the film version before reading the book. It caught my eye on Netflix, mostly because of the strange title. And I loved the reason given for the title in the story. I also really liked the on-screen version! The book format was therefore a bit of a surprise since it was mostly in the form of letters to, from, and among the various characters. I’m not always a fan of an epistle format, but it worked for this book.
The other different aspect of this book was that, rather than being set during wartime, we learn about the war experiences of the cast of quirky, sometimes feisty characters through the eyes of Juliet during post-war correspondence and her eventual visit to the island. Theirs was a quiet resistance – and one where they realized that not all Nazis were pure evil. While I will always agree that the actions of the Nazis and the effects of their actions are speech-stealing, horrifically evil, it helps to be reminded, too, of the their humanity. This book does an excellent job showing multiple perspectives and causing the reader to think.
What about you? What World War II books do you love?
I know this list isn’t exhaustive, so drop a comment below with your favorite(s)!