World War II began 80 years ago this week, when German troops invaded Poland on September 1, 1939. The continent of Europe, and soon nearly the entire world, felt the effects of this invasion, and the subsequent German aggressions, over the course of the next six years. When thinking of this conflict, we often think about it from a uniquely American perspective. Here’s our selection of six excellent books available in our store that show different facets of the war, and how it effected citizens of countries all around the globe.
ABOVE THE EAST CHINA SEA, Sarah Bird — This contemporary novel weaves together two stories of adolescent girls in Okinawa. Luz, the Asian-American daughter of a soldier mom, moves to Okinawa in the present when her mother is stationed at the US Military base there. As she reconnects with her family’s roots in Okinawa, her story intertwines with that of Tamiko, a girl who was Luz’s age in 1945 and was assigned by the Japanese military authority to work in the terrifying cave hospitals on the island.
LIFE AND FATE, Vasily Grossman — An epic novel, worthy of the epic war it recounts. A Russian Jewish journalist who had covered both of the World Wars on the Russian front, Grossman’s masterpiece is a 20th century evocation of War and Peace. His thrilling tale includes a terrifying account of the Battle of Stalingrad and intimate observations on the fate of one single family who are scattered by the war.
PRIMO LEVI’S RESISTANCE, Sergio Luzzatto — Primo Levi is well known as one of the most eloquent voices to emerge from the Holocaust, but his role as an active partisan before his arrest is less well-known. In this well-researched book, Luzzatto reclaims the story of Levi’s life as a member of the Italian Resistance, fighting the Nazis for his own life as well as the life of his country.
KAPPUTT, Curzio Malaparte — A hallucinogenic, morally harrowing mix of reportage and fiction, Kapputt stands alone in rendering the surreal terror of Nazi rule on the Eastern Front. Malaparte was an Italian journalist whose slippery politics allowed him access to the highest echelons of the Italian collaborationist government and the Nazi command. The result is this terrifying account, which juxtaposes elegant champagne dinners with unforgettable scenes of human cruelty and suffering.
SUITE FRANÇAISE, Irène Némirovsky — A more intimate look at the war’s effect on private individuals, this book is also notable for having a backstory more famous than the book itself. Némirovsky was a well-known Parisian writer by the time she embarked on a series of five wartime novels, but she was Jewish, and in 1942 she was deported to Auschwitz, where she died. The first two novels in her planned series were finished at the time of her deportation, but they were not published until 2004. Here they are united in one volume, which tells stories of the French living under occupation, with all the moral compromise and opportunities for cowardice and heroism that occupation entailed.
AUSTERLITZ, W.G. Sebald — This unusual book circles around the history of World War II without reaching the truth about the events of the war until its end. In the 1960s, an eccentric Englishman who is obsessed with the architecture of forts encounters another eccentric Englishman and begins cautiously to unfold the tale of his life, which, it turns out, was irrevocably changed by the events of the war.