The best WW2 novels that breath new life into a subject

Michael C. White Author Of Beautiful Assassin
By Michael C. White

Who am I?

I’m the author of seven published novels and a recently retired English professor. I was the founder and director of the Fairfield University MFA program. My latest novel is called Lebensborn and is set in Germany near the end of World War II. The novel concerns a little-known project hatched by Heinrich Himmler called Lebensborn (“the fount of life”). Concerned about Germany’s falling birth rate, Himmler began the program in 1935 hoping to encourage unwed mothers not to have abortions but to give birth to their babies at Nazi-run homes and then to give their babies up for adoption to “pure Aryan” officers. Lebensborn follows the story of Renate Dressler, a young German girl who falls in love with an SS officer. 

I wrote...

Beautiful Assassin

By Michael C. White,

Book cover of Beautiful Assassin

What is my book about?

World War II seems lost for the beleaguered Soviets as they struggle to hold back the rising German tide at Sevastopol. But a fearless female sniper inspires hope during her nation's darkest hour. Word of the extraordinary Soviet heroine, Tat'yana Levchenko, reaches American First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, who invites the beautiful assassin to tour the United States with her. For the Russians, Tat'yana's visit is an opportunity to gain support and valuable U.S. intelligence. But Tat'yana knows she is a pawn in a deadly game of treachery and deceit, forced to question the motivations of everyone around her . . . even the dashing and sympathetic American captain assigned as her translator. And then, as suddenly as she rose to international fame, Tat'yana vanishes without a trace. Her strange disappearance will remain a mystery for decades--until a determined journalist stumbles across Tat'yana's story . . . and uncovers the astonishing truth.

The books I picked & why

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All the Light We Cannot See

By Anthony Doerr,

Book cover of All the Light We Cannot See

Why this book?

What fascinates me about World War II novels in general and Doerr's novel, in particular, is an author's unearthing of some little-known aspect of the war or fresh point of view that breathes new life into a subject about which much has already been written. Doerr's novel brings two original perspectives to bear with his young main characters, Marie-Laure, the blind, French girl, and Werner, the talented, pacifist German student, both of whom find themselves thrust into the forefront of war and all of its brutality. In addition to brilliant characterizations, Doerr's electrifying prose and original plot structure make this Pulitzer-prize-winning novel a must-read.

The Glass Room

By Simon Mawer,

Book cover of The Glass Room

Why this book?

One of the most remarkable aspects of this war novel is the fact that perhaps its most important character is the setting—the house or “glass room” where the main characters live. Viktor Landauer, a Jew, and his gentile wife Liesel, along with their modernist architect Rainer von Abt, build a house that they hope represents the vibrancy and faith in the future of a new and fresh world order in Europe, casting off the centuries of old-world class constraints. However, with the rise of Nazism, the house, ironically, becomes another Holocaust site used to oppress and kill Jews. Great characters and written in nuanced prose, The Glass Room is a fresh take on the subject of the Holocaust.

Suite Française

By Irene Nemirovsky,

Book cover of Suite Française

Why this book?

Murdered at Auschwitz, Irène Némirovsky left this quietly stunning novel behind as a testament to her remarkable talent. Hidden in a suitcase among her daughter’s things for sixty-four years, the novel wasn’t published until 2004. Actually two related novels, the first part tells the story of Parisians fleeing the invasion of the Germans in 1940. With a poet's insight and sharp clarity, Némirovsky presents not only German brutality but the selfishness and foibles of human nature, including the French. In the second part the French learn to live with—and in one case, fall in love with—their oppressors. A complex, multifaceted view on war.

We Were the Lucky Ones

By Georgia Hunter,

Book cover of We Were the Lucky Ones

Why this book?

What I appreciate about Hunter's novel is that it takes a new approach to the subject of the Holocaust. With the outbreak of WWII, the Kurcs, a Polish-Jewish family, find themselves driven into another diaspora, with their family members cast to the four corners of the globe. Hunter touches on the plight of Poland during the early years of the war when the country was torn asunder by Germany from the west and the Soviet Union from the east. The plot follows the various family members as they struggle to survive the Holocaust in Poland, in Stalin's Gulag, and as one member tries to flee to South America. A big, sprawling, family epic filled with tragedy and humanity, brutality and heroism.

City of Thieves

By David Benioff,

Book cover of City of Thieves

Why this book?

Reminiscent of the earthy humor and frank insight of Huck Finn, the novel concerns the siege of Leningrad. Hungry like so many in the city, the main character, Lev Beniov, a young Soviet boy, is arrested for looting for food. Along with an older prisoner Kolya, they are given a chance at saving their necks by a strange edict: they must find a dozen eggs for a Soviet colonel to use in his daughter’s wedding cake. Set against the hellish world of suffering, starvation, and death that was Leningrad, the two boys set off on a quest for the eggs both in the city and behind enemy lines. Both hilarious and horrifying, the novel is a stunning bildungsroman against the backdrop of a city under siege.

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