The best novels where war is not centre stage but present nonetheless

Nathalie Abi-Ezzi Author Of A Girl Made of Dust
By Nathalie Abi-Ezzi

Who am I?

As a writer, I'm fascinated by the experiences that affect people's identity. I want my characters to have this multiplicity and depth too, and since I was born and grew up in Lebanon, an obvious place for me to start was by looking at the impact that war had on people's everyday lives. The characters I write about simply want to get on with the business of living, but can't do this without taking into account the bigger events that are happening around them.

I wrote...

A Girl Made of Dust

By Nathalie Abi-Ezzi,

Book cover of A Girl Made of Dust

What is my book about?

From her family home, eight-year-old Ruba can see Beirut shimmering on the horizon, and she can also hear the rumble of shelling. This is Lebanon in the 1980s, and civil war is tearing the country apart. Ruba, however, has her own worries. Her father hardly ever speaks. Her mother looks so sad that Ruba thinks her heart might have withered like a fig in the sun. Her elder brother Naji has started to spend his time with older boys—and some have guns.

When Ruba decides to save her father and uncover his secret, she begins a journey that takes her from childhood to the beginnings of adulthood. But as Israeli troops invade and danger comes ever closer, she realises that she may not be able to keep her family safe after all.

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission

The books I picked & why

Book cover of Where the Crawdads Sing

Why did I love this book?

Six-year-old Kya is abandoned first by her mother, then the rest of her family, and must fend for herself in the North Carolina marshes. The instigator for this is her father's violence, most likely a reaction to his experiences in the trenches of World War 2. The 'Marsh Girl,' ostracized by the local community, lives a life closely connected to the natural world around her. This comes to an abrupt end, though, when her boyfriend is found dead at the bottom of a fire tower and she is accused of his murder. The dual narrative interweaves the timelines of Kya the child and Kya the adult to tell this story in its most meaningful way. Check out too the masterful audiobook reading by Cassandra Campbell.

By Delia Owens,

Why should I read it?

33 authors picked Where the Crawdads Sing as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?


For years, rumours of the 'Marsh Girl' have haunted Barkley Cove, a quiet town on the North Carolina coast. So in late 1969, when handsome Chase Andrews is found dead, the locals immediately suspect Kya Clark, the so-called Marsh Girl. But Kya is not what they say. Sensitive and intelligent, she has survived for years alone in the marsh that she calls home, finding friends in the gulls and lessons in the sand. Then the time comes when she yearns to be…

The History of Love

By Nicole Krauss,

Book cover of The History of Love

Why did I love this book?

The shadow of the Holocaust leans over this story, which moves between noughties New York and Poland sixty years earlier. Octogenarian Leo Gursky, now living in Manhattan, once wrote a book, The History of Love, inspired by his love for a girl in his village in Poland. Alma Singer is a 14-year-old girl living on the other side of the city, and the mystery of what happened to his novel brings them together. 

By Nicole Krauss,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Leo Gursky taps his radiator each evening to let his upstairs neighbor know he's still alive. But it wasn't always like this: in the Polish village of his youth, he fell in love and wrote a book...Sixty years later and half a world away, fourteen-year-old Alma, who was named after a character in that book, undertakes an adventure to find her namesake and save her family. With virtuosic skill and soaring imaginative power, Nicole Krauss gradually draws these stories together toward a climax of "extraordinary depth and beauty" (Newsday).

Life After Life

By Kate Atkinson,

Book cover of Life After Life

Why did I love this book?

The premise of this novel is the variety of different ways that a single life can turn out—assuming it survives its own birth, that is. This isn't initially the case for the main character Ursula Todd who, in the first version of her life at least, is stillborn. Her life repeats itself again and again, however, ending suddenly and then restarting, to unfold with sometimes minor and sometimes major changes. As a writer, I get a headache just imagining the level of planning required to construct such an intricate novel, but Atkinson does it perfectly. The scenes about the Spanish flu epidemic of 1918 and those set during the Blitz are particularly memorable.

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…

Book cover of Mothering Sunday: A Romance

Why did I love this book?

Mothering Sunday takes place on a single day in March 1924, a day off for all the servants, including Jane Fairchild, although as a foundling she has no mother to go home to. The novella revolves around the affair Jane has with soon-to-be-married Paul Sheringham, the only remaining son of the neighbouring family, and heir to their estate. The writing is imbued with a sense of loss, of time warping and wavering, of what-would-have-beens, and conveys the difficulties faced by those who had to carry on in the wake of the Great War. 

By Graham Swift,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Mothering Sunday as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Now a major film starring Olivia Colman, Colin Firth, Odessa Young and Josh O'Connor (The Crown), scripted by Alice Birch (Normal People)

'Exquisite . . . Mothering Sunday shows love, lust and ordinary decency straining against the bars of an unjust English caste system' Kazuo Ishiguro
It is March 30th 1924. It is Mothering Sunday.

How will Jane Fairchild, orphan and housemaid, occupy her time when she has no mother to visit? How, shaped by the events of this never to be forgotten day, will her future unfold?

Beginning with an intimate assignation and opening to embrace decades, Mothering Sunday…


By David Malouf,

Book cover of Ransom

Why did I love this book?

An interpretation of part of The Iliad where King Priam journeys to Achilles' camp to beg for the return of his son Hector's body. Malouf gives us access to Priam's thoughts and feelings as he dresses as a carter and drives straight into the enemy camp, wondering at all the things that, as a king, he has never noticed before. Once in the camp, he must face the man who has been dragging his son's body behind his chariot day after day, only to wake up each morning and find it magically restored. This is a story about those who are left behind, told in heart-stoppingly beautiful writing. 

By David Malouf,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

In his first novel in more than a decade, award-winning author David Malouf reimagines the pivotal narrative of Homer’s Iliad—one of the most famous passages in all of literature.
This is the story of the relationship between two grieving men at war: fierce Achilles, who has lost his beloved Patroclus in the siege of Troy; and woeful Priam, whose son Hector killed Patroclus and was in turn savaged by Achilles. A moving tale of suffering, sorrow, and redemption, Ransom is incandescent in its delicate and powerful lyricism and its unstated imperative that we imagine our lives in the glow of…

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in romantic love, immigrants, and the Iliad?

9,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about romantic love, immigrants, and the Iliad.

Romantic Love Explore 657 books about romantic love
Immigrants Explore 135 books about immigrants
The Iliad Explore 29 books about the Iliad

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Stumbling on Happiness, The Glass Castle, and The Coddling of the American Mind if you like this list.