January 27th is International Holocaust Remembrance Day, which started being acknowledged in 2005. This date back in 1945 marks the liberation of the concentration camps at Auschwitz-Birkenau. This seems like the perfect time to dedicate a post to some fiction books set in the Second World War.
I will not give a history lesson on the subject because I, myself, am not that knowledgeable about it. But I want to raise awareness about the atrocities that took place during World War ll. Learning about events such as these brings a new level of empathy for humankind, and it is important to get educated. We should never stop learning, even when we leave the classroom. Even if the particular events we learn about didn’t personally affect us, they are still worthy subjects to know. It is important to stay alert in order to avoid those types of crimes from ever happening again.
The following books are works of fiction, but they are based on one of the most destructive wars in the world. Reading them is not easy, so be warned, but I personally don’t believe in ‘cancel culture’. Just because a subject is hard to digest or taboo, that doesn’t mean we should ban it.
Unfortunately, these horrible events did take place, and we cannot carry on with our lives and pretend they never happened.
If you want to read some great historical novels or memoirs set during this time, the following twelve books are a great place to start.
12. The Girl in the Red Coat by Roma Ligocka
This book is written with such brutal honesty, it will move you beyond words. The girl in the red coat, as portrayed in the movie Schindler’s List, is none other than Roma Ligocka, a Polish artist living in Germany. Her heart-wrenching memoir describes how she survived in the concentration camps during the Second World War
11. Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly
Three young women’s lives, one New York Socialite, a Polish teenager, and an ambitious German doctor, intersect in this tale of unsung women in their quest for second chances in a very unstable world. Written with raw emotions and a powerful subject matter, the book will not leave you unmoved.
10. Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys
This story takes place aboard a German cruise liner that was bringing refugees and personnel to safety from the advancing Red Army. Overcrowded, the ship sank and ended up with more than 9,000 fatalities. Four voices convey the real-life tragedy in this work of fiction by Ruta Sepetys.
9. The Girl They Left Behind by Roxanne Veletzos
The story follows Natalia, a young Jewish girl a wealthy Romanian couple adopted when her parents were forced to leave her behind. As a recent ally of Germany, Romanian Jewish people that lived in the country were not safe. This book also offers readers a unique portrayal of life in 1941 war-torn Bucharest. It also describes how life was in Romania when it fell under Russian occupation.
8. The Dutch Wife by Ellen Keith
A tale of blurred lines between abuse and resistance, love and lust, this novel is set in the Netherlands in May 1943. Three individuals’ lives are brought together by a stark secret that is entangled during two oppressive reigns of terror. The narrative crosses timelines between the second world war and the Argentinian Dirty War that took place in 1977.
7. The Alice Network by Kate Quinn
Another historical novel based on the First and the Second World Wars, The Alice Network is about female spies and a mission to uncover hard truths. Kate Quinn is one of the best authors in the genre, and this book is worth a read if you like layered, complex stories based on real-life events. Pick up this highly-rated novel if you like strong female characters.
6. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
This book takes place in 1939 Nazi Germany where Liesel, with her foster father’s help, learns to read. Her world is forever changed when she visits her brother’s graveside and she finds the Gravedigger’s Handbook. That’s where her love affair with books and book thieving starts. But when her foster family hides a Jew in their basement, her world will never be as she knew it. Beautifully crafted, this book is a must-read for any historical fiction lover.
5. All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
Set in Paris, France during the Second World War, and a small mining town in Germany, the book interweaves the lives of Marie-Laure and Werner. While their paths collide, this blind French girl and German boy try to survive the war. The novel is very descriptive of how their lives are affected by the war, and how people still bring out the good in each other.
4. Sarah’s Key by Tatyana de Rosnay
Focusing on a lesser-known time during the Nazi occupation of France, the book follows the story of Sarah, a ten-year-old Jewish girl who is arrested with her family. She locks her younger brother in a cupboard and leaves with the key, thinking she’ll soon be back for him. But things don’t work out that way. A parallel story follows Julia Jermond, an American journalist who is writing an article about the events set during those times. A great novel that makes you think and urges the reader to keep alert in order to avoid history repeating itself.
3. Our Darkest Night By Jennifer Robson
My timing couldn’t be any more perfect than this, as I literally just finished reading this book a few days ago. My review will follow shortly, but all I will say for now is that this book is a very interesting read.
Set in Italy between 1943 and 1945, Nina had to flee her beloved home and leave her parents behind. Posing as Nico’s wife, a farmer that lives in the countryside, Nina misses her family and tries to adapt to her new life. But she is not completely safe from the Nazis, who are regularly doing checks. The story follows Nina and Nico’s transforming relationship during the worst time of their lives. A heavy historical fiction book to read, it is well narrated and filled with emotion.
2. Nella’s Last Peace by Nella Last
Written post-war, these diaries from Nella Last, a housewife, and mother from Barrow-in-Furness are heart-wrenching. This is the second book in a series of diary entries Nella kept beginning with the onset of the war, in 1939. In her second book, Nella describes how she and the people she knows tried to rebuild their lives after the second world war left much of Europe in disarray.
The first book is Nella’s Last War: The Second World War Diaries of Housewife 49. While she lived in Britain, her son enrolled in the army and joined the Allies. In this book, she keeps notes on how she and other civilians adapted to their new reality.
Both books are very eye-opening, as this ordinary housewife’s thoughts and emotions were similarly felt by many others who endured the effects of the war second-hand.
1. The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
This is the most famous book that is set in the Second World War. It is written by Anne Frank, a young girl who was hiding in the attic of an old office building for two years along with her family. The thirteen-year-old girl and her family were forced to flee their home in Amsterdam when the Nazis occupied Holland in May of 1940. They endured boredom, hunger, and the constant threat of being discovered and ultimately tortured and killed. With surprising humor, the girl tells her story that touched millions of people throughout the world. A must-read if you want to learn about how life was for Jewish people that lived underground during the war.
These are the 12 books set during the second world war everyone should consider reading. If you read any of these, what are your thoughts? Let me know in the comments below.