Wartime Fiction Is Hell

It doesn’t matter how you encounter war in fiction. Either imaginary or factual, it’s horrifying. The anguish, the fear, the weapons designed to destroy as much as possible — all of it is hell on earth. But we know that responding to war through literature helps us to avoid repeating history. Off The Shelf gathered some important and beloved titles set in World War II and wanted to present them to you now, given the number of wars in today’s world. Have a peek at something you’ve not read, or revisit a title and tell a good friend about it. We’ve got to talk about war somehow….

1The Naked and the Dead
by Norman Mailer

On the South Pacific island of Anopopei, American forces are tasked with driving out the Japanese so they can advance into the Philippines. This novel focuses on the experiences of one platoon, overseen by Lieutenant Hearn and General Cummings. A fascinating portrait of men who are just obeying orders, uncertain as they are about the aim behind the orders.

2Empire of the Sun
by J.G. Ballard

A young British teenager is separated from his parents when the Japanese invade Shanghai, where he lives. His struggle to find his parents and to survive as a prisoner of war is crazy and quite harrowing. Trivia: did you know the movie adaptation stars a very young Christian Bale? I know, right?!

3War and Remembrance
by Herman Wouk

A sequel to his previous novel, THE WINDS OF WAR, this novel continues the story of two families over the course of World War II. This novel was adapted into a popular TV mini-series back in the 1980s.

4From Here To Eternity
by James Jones

A story about the lives of several men in an army unit in Hawaii in the months before the attack on Pearl Harbor. Famously adapted into that magnificent film of the same name. This is a slower burn than the movie, but we know the book is always better.

5The Thin Red Line
by James Jones

This is Jones' follow-up to FROM HERE TO ETERNITY, but it's not a sequel. This novel follows a platoon moving through the fighting in Guadalcanal and the horrors they encounter in the enemy and in themselves.

6Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet
by Jamie Ford

A lovely story which focuses on two young people set partially in the Asian internment camps of American WWII history. Over the course of their lives, we see love and friendship unfold between Henry Lee, a Chinese-American boy, and Keiko Okabe, a Japanese-American girl.

7A Town Like Alice
by Nevil Shute

Jean Paget, a young Englishwoman, falls in love with a fellow prisoner of World War II in Malaya (now known as Malaysia). After she is freed, she emigrates to Australia to be with her love, where she invests her substantial fortune to generate economic prosperity in a small outback community. The goal: to turn it into "a town like Alice" (Alice Springs).