Tales of Woe and World War II

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not really into war movies. I don’t often like things that are violent anyway and I can’t help but cry hysterically every time I see one of those films. The honest-to-goodness truth is that they make me uncomfortable.

So when I was asked if I was going to do a post to commemorate Remembrance Day (which in Canada falls on November 11) I was a little bit hesitant. I couldn’t feel like I could talk about “war books” because I don’t read them that often. Like I said, I can barely watch a “war movie”.

I was discussing this with a friend of mine when he asked me what a “war book” was exactly, and I realized that I didn’t have an answer. When I really started thinking about it, I could come up with a long list of titles of books that take place during a war (specifically World War II) that have inspired me, moved me, and on occasion even made me laugh.

War, or even political conflict, isn’t just about fighting, or the soldiers, or the weapons. War is about culture, religion and social tradition. It’s about history, and political borders, and the men, women and children who find themselves within or without those confines. It’s about the things that we have in common as human beings, and the things that divide us; the things we stand for and the things we won’t tolerate. It’s about the rules we break, the choices we make, and most of all it comes down to whether or not we believe in something.

So in fact, I do like “war books”. I like them a lot. You won’t see me picking up any military study anytime soon, but I’m sure the following books won’t be the last ones about war to grace these bookshelves.

Atonement is probably my favorite of Ian Macewan’s books. It’s not just about the war- it’s a coming-of-age story really, and a look at how the choices we make can sometimes have far-reaching consequences that can last for a lifetime. (It’s a great movie, too!)

Before French author Irene Nemirosky was arrested by Nazis in 1942, she was working on the book now known as Suite Française– the first two novellas in an intended series of three that encapsulate the sweeping effects of war across the French countryside, touching rich and poor alike. The story behind the author’s mysterious disappearance and the investigation that ensued makes this book even more beautifully haunting. (It was also one of my favourite books of 2017.)

I had the honor of hearing Elie Wiesel speak while I was in university and it was one of the most haunting speeches I’ve heard in my life. The most remarkable thing about Elie Wiesel was his unwavering faith in the goodness of humanity despite all of the atrocities he faces. If you pick up any of the books on this list, I hope you pick up Night by Elie Wiesel.

Honorable Mentions

These woeful tales have been featured on my blog before but are still worth a second look.

  • The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is one of my favorite epistolary novels, and one of my favorite books about World War II, and as such is constantly missing from my shelves (described in this post here about books of mine that are frequently borrowed and never returned).
  • An ordinary man takes a peaceful, yet musical stand against the troops that continue to occupy and terrorize his city in Canadian author Steven Galloway’s book The Cellist of Sarajevo.
  • Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief has a unique narrator that gives this epic tale about a young girl growing up in Nazi Germany a surreal feeling, like you’re watching a movie as it’s happening in real time. (So much so that someone decided to adapt it into a movie, which I think is just as beautiful and haunting.)
  • Two boys form an unlikely friendship in John Boyne’s The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, which earned a place among the most devastating books I’ve read in this post here.
  • The Clothes They Stood Up In by Alan Bennett may be short but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t pack an emotional punch. (Also featured on my list of books that will shock your system.)
  • A tragedy that occurs during the Holocaust becomes a modem day mystery in Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay.
  • The Second World War almost becomes its own character in the strange world that is Life After Life by Kate Atkinson, in which a perpetually reincarnating girl discovers she may have the power to alter the course of history. (Another favourite from 2017.)

I love to read and I love sharing my favorite books with you. (For more reading inspiration click here or here.) These lists are totally my own creation and I was not paid or perked to share my opinions with you by any author or publishing company. For more of what’s on my bookshelves, click here.

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