History Through Fiction

I’ve always been a big reader. Fiction has been my drug of choice since childhood and as an adult, I still  can get swept away into a great book. I like a true story. Non-fiction is just not my jam but I do love learning about history from the perspectives of people who lived then. What better way than historical fiction? It is without a doubt, my very favorite genre.

For whatever reason, I’m particularly drawn to fiction set during World War II. 

I’ve heard about WWII from my Grandmother’s perspective many times. She married my Grandfather while he was on leave from the Air Corps and then he promptly went to war. She’s a worrier, my grandmother (that’s definitely where I got it from). I can’t imagine the daily fear she endured wondering if her husband was ever going to come home. 

Based on his actual combat record below, it was highly unlikely that he would come home. But he did.

For stories like theirs and so many others, it wasn’t just about romance or love (although I’m sure there was plenty of that). It was about sacrifice, duty, and most importantly, hope. Perhaps it was Grammy who sparked my interest in the human stories of WWII, not just the history itself. Here are a few novels I’ve read from this genre which deserve a read:

Sarah’s Key

This novel addresses something that I think many people don’t know. The French authorities, not just the Nazi’s, rounded up Parisian Jews. This took place primarily on July 16 and 17, 1942 and is formally known as the Vel’ d’Hiv Roundup. I learned quite a bit about it when I studied abroad in Paris. You can read more about it here


The picture above is outside of a Parisian cafe during the Nazi occupation. It’s a bit disturbing to see, two Nazi’s walking through Paris casually, no one putting up a fight. Certainly there was a resistance, but a there was also plenty of people who went along with it. You can view other photos from the Nazi occupation of Paris by clicking here.

It is through the horrors of Vel’ d’Hiv Roundup that Sarah’s story begins. The novel alternates back and forth between present day and 1942 on. The events of the novel are heartbreaking, disturbing, and shocking. And yet you could see this family’s story being real. There were many families like Sarah’s, though hers is fictional. And that is worth remembering.

Sarah was a little girl when the novel begins and her story intertwines with a modern day woman, Julia, who is researching Vel’ d’Hiv Roundup for an article. Both perspectives are fascinating but I really found that I looked forward to the chapters from Sarah’s perspective more and “got through” the chapters from Julia.

Those Who Save Us

This novel is about what people will do to survive. Even if that means doing little or nothing to stop the horrors happening around them. 

The novel is written from the German perspective, quite a risk by the author, but a perspective worth sharing. The novel starts with Trudy, who has lived her entire life with her reserved German mother speaking very little about their experiences in Nazi Germany. Trudy’s only knowledge of her early childhood comes from a picture of herself, her mother, and a Nazi officer. 

This novel explores the shame of being German following the atrocities of the Holocaust and Trudy’s exploration into her past, only to find details she never expected. The novel moves long a bit slowly at first but is a worthy investment.

The Lost Wife

Of these four books, this was my favorite. The first chapter hooks you in a way that no book I’ve ever read has. It begins with a glance across a crowded room. Where two people look in each others eyes and realize, they had been married long ago and both believed the other to be dead. 

The novel goes on to fill in the details of their love and lives apart throughout the horrors of WWII and the rest of their lives later in America. The novel is mostly set in Czechoslovakia and follows the young wife, Lenka to Terezin concentration camp, where she survives by using her talent as a painter. 

If you like the “against all odds” type romance, this truly moving and descriptive book is for you.

The Piano Teacher

This incredible novel looks at WWII from a perspective that is often forgotten. The novel is set in Hong Kong in the 1950’s but flashes back to 10 years prior throughout. I honestly can say that I had completely forgotten (or possibly never learned) that the Japanese occupied Hong Kong during WWII. As Hong Kong was previously a British colony before it was taken over by the Japanese, many British Citizens were living in Hong Kong at the time of Japanese occupation. 

A young bride and her husband were living in Hong Kong in the 1950’s when she began an affair with a man who was deeply and tragically affected by the Japanese occupation. Their stories intertwine and it makes for a dark and very readable story.

Right now I am reading The Kommandant’s Girl on my kindle. This too is historical fiction and is set in Poland during the early 1940’s. So far it is excellent and I’m truly hooked. 

Now tell me, have you read any of these novels? Do you have others you would suggest?
Is there one particular genre you stick with?

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