I’ve always been interested in History, so much so that I have an A Level in it. I did my degree in Business Management and English Literature but I think if I ever had the gazillion pounds spare to do a degree just for fun, I think I would study History.
One of my favourite historical fiction genres to read is books set during the Second World War. My grandparents lived through this period with my maternal grandparents getting married during the war and my Uncle making an appearance 9 months after my Grandad returned home on leave 👀. I’ve been brought up with stories of the war, have studied it at school and know a fair bit about the Nazi party from my A Level but it was historical fiction that added depth and breadth to my knowledge.
I went to see The Aftermath at the cinema recently. It is an adaption of the book of the same name by Rhidian Brook (more on this later) and I started thinking about the historical fiction books I’ve read which are set during World War Two so I have rounded up 10 that were stand out reads. It was through these books that I came to understand how the war impacted other countries and the strength of human nature in adversity.
The Aftermath by Rhidian Brook
The Aftermath by Rhidian Brooks is set in Hamburg immeditely after the war and examines what happens when a British officer and his wife requisition a beautiful house on the Elbe where Stefan, a German architect and his daughter live. The officer, Lewis, allows Stefan and his daughter to continue living in the house rather than be sent to an internment camp and the two families live side by side.
An examination of life in Germany after the war this books explores the devastation and the battle to rebuild a fractured country. It is a beautiful book which I adored and recommend frequently. The film is in cinemas now featuring Keira Knightley, Alexander Skarsgård and Jason Clarke and I enjoyed it but, as always, the book is better (although Alexander Skarsgård does rock some lovely knitwear).
The Courier by Kjell Ola Dahl
Kjell Ola Dahl’s The Courier is set during the Second World War in Oslo, Norway and features Ester, a young woman who works for the resistance. When her best friend is murdered she is devastated but this devastation turns to shock when she discovers that her friend’s husband is suspected of the crime. This sets in motion a chain of events which transports us from 1940s, to the 1960s and to the present day.
The Courier is a brilliant examination of the impact of the war upon Norway which was occupied and whose Jewish community were sent to camps in mainland Europe. It explores social and political history and is wrapped up in a brilliant spy fiction novel.
All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
Oh, this book. I adored it. Set during the war in both France and Germany, it centres around a young blind girl named Marie-Laure who lives in Paris. When the city becomes occupied they flee to the walled city of Saint-Malo but the war is never far from their door. In a parallel story we meet a young boy named Werner who lives in an orphanage in Germany with his sister. He loves tinkering with things and is adept at taking things apart and putting them back together again – something that is very useful to the Nazi party.
This is an extraordinarily beautiful book which I read about four years ago and still think about now. Richly textured with gorgeous prose I think it may be one of my favourite ever books and is one to savour.
The Survivors by Kate Furnivall
I am a huge fan of Kate Furnivall and The Survivors is one of two of her books that has made this list. This book is set in Graufield, a displaced person’s camp in Germany immediately after the Second World War and features Klara and her daughter Alicja. When Klara spots a man from her past she realises that she Alicja could be in danger and she goes to extreme lengths to protect their future.
Kate Furnivall writes brilliantly strong women and The Survivors features one of the best. A brilliant exploration of the desolation and desperation of Germans after the war it is an emotional and empowering read.
The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
Set during the occupation of Carriveau, France by the Nazis, The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah features Vianne and her sister Isabelle. Vianne’s husband is sent to the front to fight and when the Nazis invade Carriveau and inhabit the homes, restaurants and cafes of this small, sleepy town her life is turned upside down. Isabelle is young and rebellious and joining the resistance puts herself and Vianne in danger, particularly when a German officer is billeted to live with them.
This is a beautiful and evocative book and even though I read it four years or so ago and still wonder how the characters I met in this book are. Read it!
The New Mrs Clifton by Elizabeth Buchan
This book opens with the discovery of a body wrapped in the roots of a sycamore tree in the garden of a house in 1970’s London. The house was inhabited by the Clifton family during and after the war and it is this family and this time period that holds the secret to this body. When Intelligence Officer Gus Clifton returns home from war with a German wife, Krista, a divide grows in the house he shares with his two sisters. What may seem like a family drama develops into an insightful and at times difficult book which examines the role of women, the brutality of war and through flashbacks to Krista’s life during the war we gain insight into the atrocities that took place.
The Betrayal by Kate Furnivall
The second Kate Furnivall book to make this list (she is the Queen of brilliant historical fiction) The Betrayal is set in Paris 1938 and features twins Florence and Romaine (Romy). These two women are like chalk and cheese with Florence living a glamorous and opulent lifestyle and Romy flying aeroplanes to Spain to help the Republicans fight the civil war. But a huge secret connects them and threatens to consume them.
Call of the Curlew by Elizabeth Brooks
Call of the Curlew by Elizabeth Brooks was my favourite book of 2018. Set in both present day and during the Second World War it centres around Virgina who lives in Salt Winds a remote house built on marshes. She was adopted by Clem and Lorna Wrathmell during the war and it is the events of this time which has affected the rest of her life.
This is an accomplished debut novel which explores life in England during the war and features the most Machiavellian antagonist I’ve ever read. Great stuff!
Early One Morning by Virginia Bailey
Early One Morning by Virgina Baily is set in Rome, Italy during the occupation. Preparing to flee the city Chiara sees a woman and her family being herded on to a truck and in a moment of madness she takes the woman’s son and says he is her nephew. The repercussions of this decision reverberate for decades when decades later Chiara receives a phone call from a woman who says she is the daughter of Daniele, the boy she took in all those years ago. This is a beautiful read which explores family, love and loss.
The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne
The Boy In The Striped Pajamas by John Boyne is an emotional and devastating read. Set in Berlin 1942 Bruno comes home from school one day and discovers that his father has received a promotion and they are moving to a new house with a tall fence at the end of the garden. It is what lies beyond this fence which intrigues Bruno, a place filled with strange people and buildings and when he meets a young boy they strike up a friendship which has huge ramifications.
A brave and beautiful book, I found it an affecting read.
I’d love to know if you have read any of these or if you have any other recommendations for me. Thanks as ever for reading.