WWII fiction is a never-ending always-generating niche market. People are endlessly fascinated with the Nazis, the Holocaust, the Japanese occupation … you name it, WWII has it. But there’s also a lot of real s**t books out there which you might think would be good if you’re into the genre, and then once you’ve been reading for 5 or 6 hours you realize are a complete waste of your time.
Trust me, I know of what I speak.
So you’re looking for the best of the best? Look no further:
- All the light we cannot see, Anthony Doerr. This wonderful gem of a novel follows the dual narratives of a blind girl in Paris and a Hitler Youth stationed in France. Despite being on opposite sides of a conflict, the level of love you feel for both is pretty amazing.
- The Nightingale, Kristin Hannah. Okay so I started reading this on a Shabbaton once and was bored out of my skull. And that was in the middle of nowhere in January with nothing else to do. So, yah, it doesn’t start well. But once you get past the initial blandness, there lies a magnificently powerful story of the French resistance and French-German relations.
- The Storyteller, Jodi Picoult. Yes, yes, I know. But seriously. Jodi takes her usual “MAJOR PLOT TWIST” style to forgiveness and reckoning after the Holocaust, and serves up a book that will give you a book hangover like no other.
- Not Me, Michael Lavigne. A son tries to find out the past of his death-bed-ridden father. I read this once through a whole Pesach Seder … yah clearly I have a book problem.
- The Book Thief, Marcus Zusak. This one’s a doozy. Told by ‘death,’ it is the story of a young girl in Nazi Germany.
- The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie society, Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows. Set as a series of letters, this book details the German occupation of Guernsey, an island in the English channel. Both heartwarming and sad, the true combination of WWII novel success.
- Sophie’s Choice, William Styron. This is a book that takes a while to get into, but when you do … boy is it worth every second. A heartbreaking account of a Polish woman in a camp.
- Memoirs of a Geisha, Arthur Golden. For all of the reasons I’ve said before.
Ones to skip:
Yes, you can just go ahead and give all of these bestsellers a hard pass.
- The boy in the striped pyjamas – Takes artistic license to a whole new and somewhat ridiculous level.
- We were the lucky ones – Tries to take a Ken Follett, grand-narrative approach and fails miserably. Also completely misrepresents the Holocaust.
- Suite Française – yawn.