Booking through Thursday – War Stories

Hosted by Booking Through Thursday
It is November 11th, known here in the U.S. as Veteran’s Day, formerly Armistice Day to remember the end of WWI but expanded to honor all veterans who have fought for their country, so do you read war stories? Fictional ones? Histories?

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It’s funny, but I never used to read war stories at all, but then suddenly started picking them up and enjoying them. I’ve read stories about several different wars – mostly WWII, but occasionally others too. Here are a few I’ve read:

Captain Corelli’s Mandolin by Louis de Bernieres (WWII)
I actually didn’t finish this one as I wasn’t enjoying it at all. I know it’s been highly popular, especially with reading groups, but I found it incredibly dull. I very much doubt I’ll ever be tempted to pick it back up. Perhaps I’ll watch the film instead.

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne (WWII)
Although very short, this one is incredibly moving and does an awful lot with its few pages. The atrocities of life in a concentration camp are largely glossed over as the story is seen through the eyes of a small boy who doesn’t realise or understand what is happening to people on the other side of the fence. The full horror and tragedy of the situation is only brought to light by sheer accident.

Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell (American Civil War)
I read this for the first time earlier this year and it instantly became one of my all-time favourites. I can’t believe I waited so long to read it! Although the main focus of the story is the relationships between Scarlett and her family, friends and lovers, the war colours each of these and leaves an indelible stain on her life which is changed beyond all recognition as a result of the war between north and south.

Lovely Green Eyes by Arnost Lustig (WWII)
This is the truly harrowing tale of a young Jewish woman plucked from the camps to become a prostitute servicing German officers and “saved” from death simply because she has green eyes and doesn’t look Jewish. It’s a harsh look at forced prostitution and the degradation these women suffered during the war.

The Separation by Christopher Priest (WWII)
Priest uses confusion of events and people, as well as imperfect memories, to great effect, crafting a tale that changes in its very plot as the reader hears the point of view of different characters. This is helped a great deal by the use of identical twin brothers, both with the same initials, who cause some confusion with the people with whom they interact, as well as the use of doubles for political figures in dangerous situations.

The Complete Maus by Art Spiegelman (WWII)
A fantastic graphic novel. The whole animals-as-people aspect makes it feel very Orwellian in approach, but having the story presented in cartoon pictures makes a difficult subject more accessible to the reader, in a way that we perhaps wouldn’t be if it were only words on the page, or action on a screen.

How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff (fictional war in 21st Century)
Although a fictional war, I thought this one worth mentioning as it shows how the sudden outbreak of war directly affects a group of children left alone in the countryside to cope without adult supervision and get by as best they can. Very moving.

Labyrinth by Kate Mosse (Crusade against the Cathars in Occitania – 1209)
This is essentially a mystery that flicks between two time periods, but the historical one is set during this Crusade and the massacre at Bezieres. It is a major part of the proceedings and an essential plot point that is thrilling and adds to the mystery.

The Romans series by Simon Scarrow (42AD Roman invasion of Britain and beyond)
Starting with Under the Eagle. Although this series starts with the 42AD invasion of Britain, various other conflicts occur throughout the series, pitting the two leads (who start as an Optio and Centurion) in battle against various foes. They are meticulously researched and the action is firmly based on real historical events that are seen through the eyes of our Roman soldiers.

The Revolution series by Simon Scarrow (Napoleonic wars)
Starting with Young Bloods. I haven’t actually read this series yet, but I have the first three novels on my shelf waiting for me to pick them up. I really should do that soon!

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13 responses to “Booking through Thursday – War Stories

  1. That’s an intense stack of books! I grew up reading a lot of concentration camp literature but I don’t think I have the emotional stomach for it anymore. These books look pretty good, though, if I can bring myself to it…

    • There’s only really Maus and Lovely Green Eyes on this list that give particularly harrowing descriptions of concentration camps. The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas give’s a child’s-eye view of things looking in from the outside and not seeing the horrors or understanding what’s happening to people. I didn’t finish Captain Corelli, so I can’t say for sure about that one, but the rest have no concentration camps in them. I hope you’ll give some of them a try and enjoy them. 🙂

  2. I’ve never been much into war stories, but I’ve read some romances set in WWI and WWII. I did read Gone With the Wind and loved that.

  3. I have to check some more although I have read a lot!

    BTT: War Books

  4. The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne is on our reading groups book list! I’ve heard nothing but positive reviews. Happy Thursday!

  5. You know, I didn’t think I had read that many war-oriented books. But as I read through everyone’s answers I keep checking off more that I’ve read. How could I forget Gone with the Wind? Here’s my full answer: http://myreadersblock.blogspot.com/2010/11/booking-through-thursday-war.html

  6. I first thought no as well, but I am seeing how I was only thinking of nonfiction. Good points! Come visit What Were They Thinking? at The Crowded Leaf.

  7. I only read fictional ones. The White Queen, The Red Queen, and some Civil War books.

  8. I’ve been reading a lot of Roman literature these past two years, and am glad to have spotted another author ripe for mining. 🙂 Thanks for sharing.

    • Well, if you like Roman stuff, I’m certain you’re going to LOVE Scarrow! And the best news is, you have 10 books in the series to be getting on with (with no signs of stopping yet – hurrah!)

  9. Because of reading these reviews I’ve been persuaded to finally get up and read ‘Boy in The Striped Pyjamas’ and ‘Gone With The Wind’, and I might have a look at ‘Lovely Green Eyes’ too – sounds very interesting. Thanks for the advice 😉 However I must disagree with your review of ‘Captain Corelli’. I’m reading that now and, though it’s a bit slow for the first 100 pages, it really picks up after that. I’m about half way through now and am enjoying it immensely.
    Have you checked out ‘Birdsong’ by Sebastian Faulks? I studied that for my AS Level this year and it’s the most fantastic fictionalised account of WW1 I’ve ever read.

    • I read about 2/3rds of Captain Corelli, but I just couldn’t get on with it at all. There wasn’t a single character that I really felt a connection with (which is unusual for me). I may go back to it at some point, but if I do, it won’t be for quite a while yet.

      I’ve not read Birdsong, although I’ve heard good things about it and it’s definitely on my watch list – it wil lbe one I get hold of eventually for sure.

      I really hope you enjoy those other books and I’m glad to have given you a few ideas. happy reading! 🙂