Seventy years after its end, the Second World War has never ceased to be fertile ground for fiction. These stories are so enduring that many have been made into beloved feature films. From authors who lived and died in its carnage, to contemporary writers wrestling with its legacy, here are some of our favorite books set during the war that defined the twentieth century.
During a snowstorm in 1910, a baby is born. She dies before she can draw her first breath. During a snowstorm in 1910, the same baby is born and lives. What if there were an infinite number of chances to live your life? Would you be able to save the world from its own destiny? What power can one woman exert over the fate of civilization as she lives through the turbulent events of the twentieth century again and again?
This celebrated masterpiece confronts the void at the heart of the twentieth century. Jacques Austerlitz came to England in 1939 on a Kindertransport and was told nothing of his background by the Welsh family who raise him. As a much older man, fleeting memories return to him, and obeying an instinct he only dimly understands, Austerlitz struggles to rescue his heritage from oblivion.
HHhH: “Himmlers Hirn heisst Heydrich,” or “Himmler’s brain is called Heydrich.” The most lethal man in Hitler’s cabinet, Reinhard Heydrich seemed indestructible—until two exiled operatives killed him and changed the course of history. This mesmerizing debut novel is at once thrilling and intellectually engrossing—a fast-paced novel of the Second World War that is also a profound meditation on the nature of writing and the debt we owe to history.
A sweeping saga of one working-class Berlin couple who launch a simple resistance campaign against the awesome power of the Reich. Written by a best-selling German novelist who saw his life crumble when he refused to join the Nazi Party—and published a mere two years after the war’s end—it became a surprise bestseller in 2009 when it appeared in English for the first time.
Sarah and her family were brutally arrested by the French police in the 1942 Vel’ d’Hiv roundup, but not before she locks her younger brother in a cupboard in the family’s apartment. As the sixtieth anniversary approaches, a journalist finds herself compelled to retrace Sarah’s ordeal, from the terrible days in the Vel’ d’Hiv to the camps and beyond, and stumbles upon a trail of long-hidden family secrets that connect her to Sarah.