The best WW2 novels that breath new life into a subject

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

The Books I Picked & Why

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.

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

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.

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

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.

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

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.

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

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.

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Closely Related Book Lists

Distantly Related Book Lists