The best fiction about women’s experiences of World War II

Why am I passionate about this?

Growing up near Oak Ridge, Tennessee, I was aware that the city had historical significance but also that it wasn’t particularly famous, at least to people from outside the region. I’ve always been drawn to these sorts of overlooked stories from history, which are, not coincidentally, often women’s stories. Women made up the majority of workers in Oak Ridge during World War II, and for decades afterward, their stories were generally viewed as less important than male-dominated narratives of the war. But I’ve always believed that women’s stories are no less interesting than men’s. These books look at history’s worst conflict from unique perspectives that foreground the female experience. 


I wrote...

The Atomic City Girls

By Janet Beard,

Book cover of The Atomic City Girls

What is my book about?

In 1944, eighteen-year-old June boards an unmarked bus, destined for a city that doesn’t officially exist. Oak Ridge has sprung up in a matter of months, and June joins hundreds of other young girls there operating mysterious machines to help win the war. While June wants to know more and begins an affair with Sam, a young physicist who understands the end goal only too well, her beautiful roommate Cici simply wants to find a wealthy husband. Across town, African-American construction worker Joe knows nothing of the government’s plans, only that his new job pays enough to make it worth leaving his family. But a breach in security intertwines his fate with June’s, and the bombing of Hiroshima brings the truth into devastating focus.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of When the Emperor Was Divine

Janet Beard Why did I love this book?

This sharply observed novel illustrates in devastating detail how their imprisonments in internment camps scar a Japanese-American family. The point of view shifts from mother to sister to brother and finally to father, who has been declared a traitor by the government and removed from his family. Otsuka’s descriptions bring their stories to life and force the reader to confront one of the United States’ great historical sins. 

By Julie Otsuka,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked When the Emperor Was Divine as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From the bestselling, award-winning author of The Buddha in the Attic and The Swimmers, this commanding debut novel paints a portrait of the Japanese American incarceration camps that is both a haunting evocation of a family in wartime and a resonant lesson for our times.

On a sunny day in Berkeley, California, in 1942, a woman sees a sign in a post office window, returns to her home, and matter-of-factly begins to pack her family's possessions. Like thousands of other Japanese Americans they have been reclassified, virtually overnight, as enemy aliens and are about to be uprooted from their home…


Book cover of Love in a Fallen City

Janet Beard Why did I love this book?

Though these collected stories were popular in Chang’s native China when first published in the 1940s, decades passed before they were translated into English. The title story brings war-torn Hong Kong to life, but even against the most dramatic political backdrop, Chang’s focus is firmly on women and relationships. Though the time and place may seem remote, readers will find universal emotions in these carefully constructed tales. 

By Eileen Chang, Karen S. Kingsbury (translator),

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Masterful short works about passion, family, and human relationships by one of the greatest writers of 20th century China. 

A New York Review Books Original

 

“[A] giant of modern Chinese literature” –The New York Times

 

"With language as sharp as a knife edge, Eileen Chang cut open a huge divide in Chinese culture, between the classical patriarchy and our troubled modernity. She was one of the very few able truly to connect that divide, just as her heroines often disappeared inside it. She is the fallen angel of Chinese literature, and now, with these excellent new translations, English readers can…


Book cover of Human Voices

Janet Beard Why did I love this book?

An unsparing portrait of a cast of characters working for the BBC in London at the outset of the war, this novel is both funny and moving, though Fitzgerald’s keen sense of irony assures that the writing is never sentimental. Even the most minor characters come to life, as they adjust to both the bureaucracy of the wartime BBC and the realities of life during the Blitz. 

By Penelope Fitzgerald,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The human voices of Penelope Fitzgerald's novel are those of the BBC in the first years of the Second World War, the time when the Concert Hall was turned into a dormitory for both sexes and the whole building became a target for the enemy bombers.


Book cover of Suite Française

Janet Beard Why did I love this book?

Nemirovsky never had a chance to finish what was to be a five-part series of novellas about life in France during the German occupation, because she was arrested for being Jewish and sent to Auschwitz, where she was killed. You might imagine that it would be hard for fiction to live up to such a dramatic backstory, but the two surviving novellas are beautifully written illustrations of a society facing catastrophe.

By Irene Nemirovsky,

Why should I read it?

11 authors picked Suite Française as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In 1941, Irene Nemirovsky sat down to write a book that would convey the magnitude of what she was living through, not in terms of battles and politicians, but by evoking the domestic lives and personal trials of the ordinary citizens of France. She did not live to see her ambition fulfilled, or to know that sixty-five years later, "Suite Francaise" would be published for the first time, and hailed as a masterpiece. Set during a year that begins with France's fall to the Nazis in June 1940 and ends with Germany turning its attention to Russia, "Suite Francaise" falls…


Book cover of Enemies: A Love Story

Janet Beard Why did I love this book?

Though it is set just after the war, the characters in this novel cannot escape from their memories of the Holocaust or guilt at having survived. Yet they are also stuck in a comic scenario—through a complex series of events, the Jewish protagonist Herman has wound up with three “wives,” his first wife from before the war who he mistakenly assumed dead, the Polish Catholic peasant who hid him from the Nazis and he married out of gratitude, and his mistress and fellow survivor he met upon relocating to New York. The novel is both hilarious and heart-breaking—a potent reminder of the impossibility of ever leaving behind the worst horrors of this war.   

By Isaac Bashevis Singer,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Almost before he knows it, Herman Broder, refugee and survivor of World War II, has three wives: Yadwiga, the Polish peasant who hid him from the Nazis; Masha , his beautiful and neurotic true love; and Tamara, his first wife, miraculously returned from the dead. Astonished by each new complication, and yet resigned to a life of evasion, Herman navigates a crowded, Yiddish New York with a sense of perpetually impending doom.


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Holy Terror

By John R. Dougherty,

Book cover of Holy Terror

John R. Dougherty Author Of Holy Terror

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

I have felt a spiritual call in my life from as early as I can remember having memories as a young child. Being a life-long Christian has always drawn me to try to see God in everything around me, from people I encounter, to creation itself, to songs, to movies, etc. So, reading books which contain Christian allegory – symbols, meanings, underlying Biblical references – is very exciting for me. I enjoy trying to decipher that symbolism and try to understand the undertones that the book’s author is trying to communicate indirectly. I find that to be a personal challenge as I read, but also I find it very inspiring as well!

John's book list on Christian action books allegorical references

What is my book about?

None of them knew what was coming, and none of them will ever be the same again...

Detective Jelani is a tough, veteran cop. His younger partner, Detective Madigan, is brash and confident. But they were not prepared to become embroiled in a series of cosmic events they could never have dreamt of. As has been the case since the beginning of time, God and His heavenly host are facing off with Satan and his hellish host.

Caught in the middle is Thumos, a warrior angel, "quickened" by God for one thing: battle. But Thumos has become a disgruntled warrior…

Holy Terror

By John R. Dougherty,

What is this book about?

None of them knew what was coming, and none of them will ever be the same again...

Detective Jelani is a tough, veteran cop, who earned his stripes in the rough-and-tumble streets of St. Louis before relocating to Miami.  His younger partner, Detective Madigan, is brash and confident.  But they were not prepared to become embroiled in a series of cosmic events they could never have dreamt of.  In a world where the angels of heaven and the angels of hell bring their ageless battle to Earth, how will these men and their families overcome such insurmountable challenges?

As has…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in Japanese Americans, Holocaust survivors, and the German occupation of Europe?

11,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about Japanese Americans, Holocaust survivors, and the German occupation of Europe.

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