15 Books that Broke through My WWII Book Skepticism
by Jen Moyers (@jen.loves.books)
I read Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows's The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (Bookshop.org | Libro.fm) for the first time in 2014, which was—as far as I can tell—around the time what I'll call my "World War II Book Fatigue" began. (Check out last week's discussion of Guernsey, and listen this week, when we discuss the adaptation!)
While this isn't an observation backed by any statistics, it certainly seems as if most historical fiction books published are set during that era, and after a while, they can feel kind of samey. And yet, when I look back on my reading since 2014, I'm surprised to note how many books I've enjoyed that are set during that time.
I think part of it is that there are so many different types of stories that people can focus on. So, there's a huge array here, all adult fiction books I've read since 2014. A few of them aren't directly WWII reads, but they're all at least WWII adjacent.
I'll share a few reviews, but I'll also just say that, if it's on this list, it's a book I'd recommend.
Jennifer Chiaverini's Resistance Women (Bookshop.org | Libro.fm)
I listened to Jennifer Chiaverini's Resistance Women for my IRL book club (the audiobook is over 20 hours long, but it's really great), and I thoroughly enjoyed it. My WWII-book fatigue didn't kick in at all because the approach here was quite different from many of the books I've read. Chiaverini spends a lot of time on what's happening in Germany through the 1930s, as Hitler's political career starts taking off. She focuses on women (as the title suggests!), basing her story on several historical figures. Mildred Fish Harnack is an American academic who moves with her German husband to his homeland. As she sees the way that Germany is changing, she is pulled in to a network of resistance that includes several other women from various backgrounds.
Chiaverini does a wonderful job developing these characters and showing the insidious way that Hitler gains power. She highlights the women's bravery and the efforts they make to fight the loss of the country that they love. Their personal sacrifices and efforts are amazing, and the amount of detail that Chiaverini includes illuminates this time period brilliantly.
Kate Quinn's The Alice Network (Bookshop.org | Libro.fm)
Kate Quinn's The Alice Network was a pleasant surprise. I had read about it when my book club chose it but somehow thought it was a WWII novel (and I'm still in the grasp of some WWII fatigue after over-reading books from that time period a couple of years ago). It takes, therefore, a special book set during that time period to knock me out of my aversion. Quinn's book was the perfect remedy, perhaps because it's WWII adjacent. The two narratives actually take place in WWI, when we learn of Evelyn Gardiner's experiences as a spy, and right after WWII, as we see Charlotte St. Claire recruit Eve and her man-of-all-work Finn to help her locate her cousin Rose, who was lost during the war. These women are strong and layered characters, and the complexity of their development over the narrative is fascinating, with a perfect balance of character and plot.
Sarah Winman's Still Life (Bookshop.org | Libro.fm)
"Art versus humanity is not the question, Ulysses. One doesn't exist without the other. Art is the antidote. Is that enough to make it important? Well yes, I think it is" (26). Sometimes, I read a book that hasn't been on my radar at all, and it touches my heart and mind that I didn't expect. Sarah Winman's Still Life is one of those books for me, and I'm so glad to @readwithtoni for bringing this one to me. Still Life is about a lot of things: it's about war and its aftermath, about the family you're born with and the family you find. It's about art and love both requited and unrequited. The cast of characters here is eccentric and strange, and I'm smiling now as I type these words because I'm thinking of each one of them. This book is, as Sara always says, one I just want to hug. I can't begin to describe the plot—both because it's too complicated and because this isn't a book that's about plot. We had the most fabulous #readwithtoni discussion, and I'm so glad to have worked through this one with a group. There was so, so much to discuss, and it made the parts I loved even more precious.
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