One facet of German culture that continues to impress me is how they have dealt with their WWII history. German authors have written extensively about it from the “inside” of German perspective, although I have yet to delve into their works. As an outsider, it is easier for me to identify with stories written by English-speaking authors, and there are a number of novels I have read that give insight into life as a German during those difficult times. We are all familiar with the Diary of Anne Frank, and many movies and TV series have made this horrific period of history painfully real. Literature remains one of the most powerful ways to represent the multitude of stories of that age, and as a self-confessed bookworm, I have collected many books set in the time period.
By no means exhaustive, nor in order of greatness, here are a number of my recommendations:
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
A novel set in France and Germany during the war, it tracks the lives of two teenagers: a German boy and a French girl. Their paths are connected with just one point of intersection, and their stories are beautifully told. This book portrays the war machine disgustingly well, and also helps the reader understand just how difficult it was to be a teenage boy during that time period.
The Good German by Joseph Kanon
As the jacket description says: “… a thriller that asks the most profound ethical questions in its exploration of the nature of justice, and what we mean by good and evil in times of peace and war.” This was also made into a movie starring George Clooney, Cate Blanchett and Toby Maguire
The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult
The granddaughter of a Holocaust survivor befriends a civic-minded old man, only to discover he was a Nazi. This is an unusual story, at times superficial and at times painfully deep.
Reunion by Fred Uhlman
This is a novella, originally written in English (I read the German version). It follows the story of two boyhood friends in Swabia, one of whom must flee the country. Short yet moving.
Maus by Art Spiegelman
This is a Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel (biography) that many of you may have encountered at university. I read it as an adult and it blew me away and left me sobbing.
Other great titles? Some others I am glad to have read include:
- Charlotte Gray by Sebastian Faulks
- When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit (children’s book) by Judith Kerr
- War Brides by Helen Bryan
- The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje
- The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
- Night by Elie Wiesel
- Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
- The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer
Anything I have missed on this list? Let us know your favorite WWII books in the comments.