War may not be a summery topic, but for decades, authors of fiction and nonfiction alike have written about World War II. Without seeking out this topic, I’ve read four very different novels set during WWII in the past month, and all of them are worth sharing (though I wouldn’t recommend reading all four in a row).
First, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows: you may remember this novel from 2008, when it was first published, but I hope that people will be reading it for years to come. This was actually my third(!) time reading to it, and now I can say that the audiobook version is just as good as the print version. Set in 1946, the story begins when author Juliet Ashton receives a letter from a man on the island of Guernsey; they strike up a correspondence, and soon Juliet is pen pals with nearly everyone on the island. Eventually, she travels to Guernsey to meet her new friends in person and to find out the story of Elizabeth McKenna, who disappeared when the island was occupied by German soldiers during the way. Told entirely in letters, this novel is an absolute delight – not a word I’d use for many war stories.
Next there’s All the Light There Was by Nancy Kricorian. Just published this year, it is the story of fourteen-year-old Maral Pegorian, who lives with her family in the Belleville neighborhood of Paris when the Germans march in and occupy the city. Maral’s tight-knit Armenian community empathizes with their Jewish neighbors more than other Parisians do, and Maral’s brother and her brother’s best friend both join the underground resistance movement. Maral’s coming of age in Paris during the war is realistic; torn between love and duty, she strives to do the right thing. All the Light There Was is gorgeously written and has a unique perspective.
Life After Life by Kate Atkinson was also published recently, to great acclaim. It is the story – or, more accurately, stories – of Ursula Todd, who is born in England in February 1910. She is born with the cord wrapped around her neck, and snow prevents the doctor’s arrival, and she dies. Again and again, Ursula is born in February 1910, always into the same family, and her life follows a different path each time. It’s a glorious experiment of a book, and it gives the reader many perspectives on both World Wars, but especially London during the Blitz. Atkinson is masterful, and I can’t recommend this highly enough.
Finally, I read Elizabeth Wein’s new young adult novel, Rose Under Fire, a companion to Code Name Verity. Rose Under Fire won’t be published until September 10, but while you’re waiting you should read Code Name Verity, if you haven’t already. Title character Rose is an American who volunteers with the Air Transport Auxiliary in England, where she puts her skills as a pilot to use. Though the ATA is a civilian organization, Rose ends up on the continent, and then in the women’s prison camp Ravensbruck, where only her friendship with the “Rabbits” – women who were the subject of medical experiments – keeps her alive. Told in journals and letters, this is the powerful story of one young woman caught up in the disaster of war.
Have you read any of these books? Do you have other favorite WWII books, fiction or nonfiction? Please share in the comments!