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.

The books I picked & why

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Where the Crawdads Sing

By Delia Owens,

Book cover of Where the Crawdads Sing

Why 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.

The History of Love

By Nicole Krauss,

Book cover of The History of Love

Why 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. 

Life After Life

By Kate Atkinson,

Book cover of Life After Life

Why 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.

Mothering Sunday: A Romance

By Graham Swift,

Book cover of Mothering Sunday: A Romance

Why 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 David Malouf,

Book cover of Ransom

Why 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. 

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