Thursday, February 11, 2016

Reading on a Theme: Untold (Until Now) World War II Tales


Welcome back to day three of World War II week on Intellectual Recreation.

Today we are featuring five novels that explore aspects of the World War II era that aren't as well known.  They delve into history not only to enlighten us but also to remind us that real people lived these events.

The Nazi Occupation of the Channel Islands:
Told in a series of letters, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is populated with a group of endearing characters. Juliet Ashton, popular newspaper columnist, begins corresponding with the people of the society in 1946 when Dawsey Adams realizes he owns one of her old books. Juliet eventually travels to Guernsey and learns about the inhabitants lives during the German occupation. A good, heartwarming book. I love the quirky characters. The occupation of the Channel islands was not something that had really crossed my radar before I read this book. Cut off from the rest of their country, these folks really had to band together.  

Fleeing the Russian Victors:
Ruta Sepetys is a master at historical fiction. I have been pining for Salt to the Sea for many months. In the winter of 1945 Germany is losing the war and the Russians are quickly steamrolling their way east. This book is about the civilians fleeing ahead of that mighty juggernaut. In Salt to the Sea we follow the perspectives of four teenagers; all with very different backgrounds. They help to convey to the reader the vastness of the folks caught up in this race for survival. This book is powerful, beautifully written, and contains so much heart. It does what historical fiction must do if it's to be done well; it transports the reader to that historical moment and gives a face, a name, and emotions to the individuals who experienced the events we read about in history books. Out February 2, 2016.

Women Aviators and Polish Prisoners:
Rose Under Fire is an incredible book. I liked it even more than Elizabeth Wein's debut, which is saying a lot because Code Name Verity is pretty gut-wrenchingly great. Pennsylvanian Rose Justice is a transfer pilot working for the Allies out of England. When her plane is intercepted by the Luftwaffe she is sent to Ravensbrucke. There she is adopted by a group of fellow prisoners: the Polish women (The Rabbits) who were the subjects of the Nazis' horrific medical experiments. Rose's harrowing story is told through a series of journal entries and letters. I absolutely adore Rose. She is the kind of friend everyone needs.   

Siberian Death Camps and Stalin's Gulag:
In 1941, fifteen-year-old Lina, along with her mother and younger brother, is taken from her home in Lithuania and sent to a Siberian work camp. Ruta Sepetys's debut novel, Between Shades of Gray, is well-written, gripping, and sad. I loved how Sepetys describes the way the Lithuanian prisoners worked together and tried to help each other despite their dire circumstances. Ruta Sepetys took her inspiration for this book from her own family history. The horrors of in the world in 1941 were numerous, to put it mildly, and the plight of those exiled and imprisoned by Stalin are often too easily forgotten. This novel tells of a time and a place in history that definitely deserves a story.

Korean Americans on the Home Front:
Sarah Creviston Lee's debut novel is the tale of a Korean American who gets stranded in Indiana during World War II. There he is hated by many for simply looking like the enemy. I didn't know much about Korean Americans' experiences during the World War II era before I read The War Between Us. I love that it tells a different side of the story, and that I felt like I really learned a lot while being entertained. With a well-researched and authentic setting, new perspective, and full and complicated characters, The War Between Us is a great addition to World War II home front stories.

All books reviewed by JoLee.

Join us tomorrow for an interview with one of these authors.

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