The best books about hard times and resilience in the World War II era

Irene Wittig Author Of All That Lingers
By Irene Wittig

Who am I?

World War II has been the background of my life. My Viennese family fled the Nazi regime. My childhood was peopled with Holocaust survivors and other people displaced by war. My uncle was a refugee and was trained as a Ritchie Boy and sent to war. I have been inspired by how people can survive traumatic times and come out stronger and kinder.

I wrote...

All That Lingers

By Irene Wittig,

Book cover of All That Lingers

What is my book about?

In this novel of loss, courage, and resilience, we experience Vienna’s tumultuous years from Austria’s 1934 civil war, through World War II and postwar occupation, to independence.

Three lives intertwine, bringing these extraordinary events to life. Emma fights to come to terms with grief and her country’s betrayal. Sophie seeks to reclaim her lost history, and Friedrich struggles with secrets that will throw all their lives into turmoil again. 

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of All the Light We Cannot See

Why did I love this book?

I loved this book and had the pleasure of hearing Mr. Doerr speak about it. It is beautifully written, filled not only with all the sorrow of war but also with moments of true kindness and compassion. Set in World War II it encompasses all aspects of what defines good and evil, courage and cowardice, sorrow and joy.

By Anthony Doerr,

Why should I read it?

25 authors picked All the Light We Cannot See as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?


A beautiful, stunningly ambitious novel about a blind French girl and a German boy whose paths collide in occupied France as both try to survive the devastation of World War II

Open your eyes and see what you can with them before they close forever.'

For Marie-Laure, blind since the age of six, the world is full of mazes. The miniature of a Paris neighbourhood, made by her father to teach her the way home. The microscopic…

Book cover of Paper Love: Searching for the Girl My Grandfather Left Behind

Why did I love this book?

A poignant, well-written and deeply researched non-fiction story of the author’s search for the girlfriend her grandfather had left behind in Vienna. As my family left Vienna because of the Nazi regime, and my own novel takes place in Vienna, I found Ms. Wildman’s book especially meaningful, raising the question not only of what had happened to the woman but also of how much guilt and responsibility the grandfather carried?

By Sarah Wildman,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Paper Love as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

One woman’s journey to find the lost love her grandfather left behind when he fled pre-World War II Europe, and an exploration into family identity, myth, and memory.

Years after her grandfather’s death, journalist Sarah Wildman stumbled upon a cache of his letters in a file labeled “Correspondence: Patients A–G.” What she found inside weren’t dry medical histories; instead what was written opened a path into the destroyed world that was her family’s prewar Vienna. One woman’s letters stood out: those from Valy—Valerie Scheftel—her grandfather’s lover, who had remained behind when he fled Europe six months after the Nazis annexed…

Exile Music: A Novel

By Jennifer Steil,

Book cover of Exile Music: A Novel

Why did I love this book?

A well-written novel about a Jewish family from Vienna who escapes the Nazi regime and finds refuge in Bolivia. In a world so different from their own, the parents long for the music and culture they left behind, while their young daughter finds joy in the differences and in the people she meets. A lesson for all of us who face life-changing changes.

By Jennifer Steil,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Exile Music as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Based on an unexplored slice of World War II history, Exile Music is the captivating story of a young Jewish girl whose family flees refined and urbane Vienna for safe harbor in the mountains of Bolivia

As a young girl growing up in Vienna in the 1930s, Orly has an idyllic childhood filled with music. Her father plays the viola in the Philharmonic, her mother is a well-regarded opera singer, her beloved and charismatic older brother holds the neighborhood in his thrall, and most of her eccentric and wonderful extended family live nearby. Only vaguely aware of Hitler's rise or…

Book cover of Mother's Century: A Survivor, Her People and Her Times

Why did I love this book?

This biography of the author’s mother and role model is as much a portrait of an intelligent, cultured, resilient woman as it is a well-researched history of the hundred-and-one years she lived through. Born into a middle-class Jewish family in Vienna she lived through World War I, post-war depression, antisemitism, and the violent rise of Nazism. With courage and determination she found a way to escape the worst horrors of the Holocaust (although many in her family did not) and faced the challenges of building a new life in a new culture.

By Richard L. Hermann,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Mother's Century as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Mother’s Century: A Survivor, Her People and Her Times is the “bio-history” of Margarete Sobel Hermann, the author’s mother and role model, who lived 101 tumultuous and productive years. Her life spanned 95 percent of the twentieth century, during which she and her family experienced much of the good, the bad and the exceptionally ugly that marked that most violent of eras. Born into a middle-class Jewish family in Imperial Vienna, she survived the First World War, famine and starvation, runaway inflation, political turmoil that makes what we are undergoing today pale in comparison, discrimination, street violence, the Great Depression,…

Life After Life

By Kate Atkinson,

Book cover of Life After Life

Why did I love this book?

A brilliant novel that shows in what directions one life can go — whether by choice or circumstance. In one life she dies as an infant; in others she grows into adulthood, faced with challenges. Her choices can change not only her life, but that of the world. Ms. Atkinson’s description of the Blitz has no match. An unforgettable novel.

By Kate Atkinson,

Why should I read it?

13 authors picked Life After Life as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

What if you could live again and again, until you got it right?

On a cold and snowy night in 1910, Ursula Todd is born to an English banker and his wife. She dies before she can draw her first breath. On that same cold and snowy night, Ursula Todd is born, lets out a lusty wail, and embarks upon a life that will be, to say the least, unusual. For as she grows, she also dies, repeatedly, in a variety of ways, while the young century marches on towards its second cataclysmic world war.

Does Ursula's apparently infinite number…

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in World War 2, immigrants, and refugees?

9,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about World War 2, immigrants, and refugees.

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