Thievery schools, boxing with Hitler and writing to strangers: World War II books to read

I thought to broaden my scope in writing I could review and recommend some books, because any writer, accomplished or aspiring, must as a prerequisite be obsessed with reading. The two undoubtedly go hand in hand.

At the moment I am finishing Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand. I don’t usually read a lot of non-fiction but have challenged myself to branch out lately. After a months long journey through the ‘survival, resilience and redemption’ (front cover) of a Prisoner of War in Japan during World War II, I have a new level of respect for veterans. As well as an ache in my heart for those who walked away from their tormentors in the war, and then went on to spend every night afterwards with them, still at their mercy in their dreams.

After reading The Book Thief by Markus Zusak earlier this year (another brilliant read and now one of my favourite novels), I am starting to get a rounder view of the second World War. Depending on what country you’re from, and go to school in, you tend to a get a certain version or ‘side’ to the story, and while The Book Thief made me realise that so many Germans were also just victims, innocents caught in the middle, Unbroken opened my eyes to what was happening behind closed doors to our men while the rest of the world seemed to have their eyes glued on Nazi Germany.

Hailed as an international bestseller–I can see why–my copy’s blurb says:

In 1943, a bomber crashed into the Pacific Ocean. Against all odds, one young lieutenant survived. Louis Zamperini had already transformed himself from child delinquent to prodigious athlete, running in the Berlin Olympics. Now he must embark on one of the Second World War’s most extraordinary odysseys. Zamperini faced thousands of miles of open ocean on a failing raft. Beyond, lay only greater trials in Japan’s prisoner-of-war camps.

Driven to the limits of endurance, Zamperini’s fate, whether triumph or tragedy, would depend on the strength of his will . . .

(Fourth Estate Paperback edition published 2014)

This book is gripping and you can’t believe the odds Zamperini comes up against, although as you read you’re hoping that it’s not a true story once you get attached to Louis and see what he has to endure.

The Book Thief is all about an obsession with words, and how guns didn’t start a war, words did. Tanks and soldiers didn’t kill the main character Liesel’s father, words did. It shows how Germans were forced to support the Nazis if they wanted to survive. They were punished for even showing sympathy to Jews.

The descriptions are like I’ve never heard, but not out of place in an effort to be obscure and the format of the book, whilst still in chapters, is creative and humorous, despite the heavy topic.

My favourite books combine heartbreaking, serious subjects with the very lightheartedness and wry humour that is necessary in order to survive them. Along those lines, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows) is another World War II book (an epistolary novel) that combines these elements beautifully, but I would probably only recommend that one to people who like quirky humour.

If you’re looking for a good read on World War II, check out one of the above. Happy reading!



Image 1:, sourced 12 June 2016.
Image 2:, sourced 12 June 2016.
Image 3:, sourced 12 June 2016.


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