World War II was a defining moment in world history, a period marked by the epic struggles and heroism of countless individuals who fought and suffered through one of the most significant conflicts in human history.
The Second World War has captured the imagination of many writers and readers, leading to a vast array of books in different genres, including historical fiction.
Historical fiction offers readers the opportunity to immerse themselves in the drama and intensity of the past, while also exploring complex themes and issues relevant to contemporary society.
We are going to be looking at some of the best World War II historical fiction books that capture the human experience of war, from the perspectives of soldiers, civilians, and those caught in the crosshairs of global conflict.
Whether you are a history enthusiast or simply looking for a captivating read, these books will transport you to a time and place that is both compelling and unforgettable!
This novel follows the lives of three women: Caroline Ferriday, a New York socialite who finds herself posted at the consulate in France; Kasia Kuzmerick, a Polish teenager imprisoned in Ravensbrück concentration camp; and Herta Oberheuser, a German doctor who worked at the camp.
- Explores the experiences of women from different backgrounds and countries.
- The character development is strong
- The novel’s portrayal of the Ravensbrück concentration camp has been criticized by some historians for its inaccuracies.
Set in France during World War II, The Nightingale tells the story of two sisters, Vianne and Isabelle, and their experiences during the German occupation.
Vianne tries to keep her family safe and protect her village, while Isabelle becomes involved in the resistance and risks her life to save others.
- Focuses on the experiences of women and civilians.
- The character development is strong, with both Vianne and Isabelle undergoing significant personal growth and transformation.
- The novel may be difficult to read for some readers due to its depictions of violence and trauma.
Set in London, The Night Watch follows the lives of several characters, including Kay, Viv, Julia, and Helen, whose lives intersect in unexpected ways.
The novel is told in reverse chronological order, beginning in 1947 and moving backward to 1941.
- The novel’s structure is unique, offering a fresh perspective on the events of World War II and the lives of those who lived through it.
- The characters are complex and multidimensional.
- The novel’s reverse chronological structure may be confusing or disorienting for some readers.
This next book tells the story of Alix St. Pierre, a young woman who finds herself caught up in the war effort.
The novel explores Alix’s experiences as a spy for the British government, a journalist covering the war, and a Hollywood screenwriter.
- Explores lesser-known aspects of the conflict, such as the role of women in espionage and propaganda efforts.
- The writing style is engaging and immersive
- The novel may not be as detailed in its portrayal of the war as some readers may prefer, as it focuses more on Alix’s experiences than on the broader political and military aspects of the conflict.
This well-known historical fiction novel tells the story of two young people, Marie-Laure and Werner, whose lives intersect in Nazi-occupied France.
Marie-Laure is a blind girl who flees Paris with her father and carries a precious jewel with her, while Werner is a German orphan who becomes a skilled radio technician for the Nazi army.
- Explores the experiences of ordinary people caught up in the conflict.
- Strong character development
- Some readers may find the novel’s structure confusing, as it jumps back and forth in time and between different characters’ perspectives.
Set in the aftermath of World War II, The Huntress follows the intersecting stories of several characters, including a female Nazi war criminal known as “the Huntress,” a British war correspondent, and a young woman searching for the truth about her father’s death.
- Offers a fresh perspective on the aftermath of World War II, exploring the hunt for Nazi war criminals and how the war continued to shape people’s lives after it ended.
- The writing style is engaging and immersive.
- Some may find the novel’s pacing slow
Set in Nazi Germany, this book is narrated by Death, who tells the story of a young girl named Liesel Meminger, who is sent to live with a foster family after the Nazis arrest her mother.
Liesel develops a love for books and begins stealing them, even as the war and the horrors of the Nazi regime continue to unfold around her.
- A unique perspective on Nazi Germany during World War II, exploring the experiences of ordinary people living under the oppressive regime.
- The characters are well-developed and relatable, with Liesel in particular serving as a compelling protagonist whose love of books and words offers a ray of hope amidst the darkness of the war.
- Some readers may find the novel’s use of Death as a narrator to be off-putting or gimmicky.
This novel is set in Europe before and during World War II.
The story features a dual narrative and follows the journey of Hieronymous “Hiero” Falk, a biracial jazz musician and trumpet prodigy, and his bandmates as they navigate the jazz scene of Berlin and Paris in the 1930s.
As the war looms closer, the bandmates are torn apart by jealousy and betrayal, as the band finds itself on the opposing side of the Nazi ideologies in 1939.
- The writing style is evocative and poetic, with a strong sense of place and time that transports the reader to the jazz scenes of 1930s Berlin and Paris.
- The characters are well-developed and multidimensional
- Slow pacing
Next up is a novel that follows two parallel narratives set decades apart.
In 2018, sixteen-year-old Alice spends the summer in Paris after her grandmother’s death due to her leaving Alice an apartment that no one knew existed.
While exploring her grandmother’s apartment, she discovers a mysterious diary belonging to a sixteen-year-old girl named Adalyn, who lived in Nazi-occupied Paris during World War II.
- The dual narrative structure of the novel, weaving together Adalyn’s story in the past and Alice’s story in the present, creates a compelling and engaging storyline.
- A detailed and vivid portrayal of wartime Paris, as well as the challenges faced by those who resisted the occupation.
- The resolution of the novel may feel predictable
Once We Were Brothers explores the legacy of World War II and the Holocaust via the story of Ben Solomon and Elliot Rosenzweig, whose paths cross after over six decades.
The story unfolds as Ben approaches Elliot and accuses him of being a former Nazi officer by the name of Otto Piatek, responsible for the murder of Ben’s family during World War II.
Elliot vehemently denies the accusation, and the story shifts between present-day Chicago and Nazi-occupied Poland, where Ben and Elliot’s lives were forever changed.
- Offers insight into the experience of the Holocaust and its aftermath
- Emotionally gripping
- Doesn’t explore the broader context of the Holocaust and its impact on Europe and the world.
This next historical fiction book is based on the life of Nancy Wake, a real-life spy and resistance fighter during World War II.
Nancy was a New Zealand woman who became a spy for the British Special Operations Executive (SOE) and led a resistance group in Nazi-occupied France.
The book follows Nancy’s journey from her early years in Australia to her recruitment by the SOE, her dangerous missions in France, and her eventual escape to England.
The story is a tribute to Nancy’s bravery and determination in fighting against the Nazis and her love for her husband, Henri Fiocca, who was captured and executed by the Germans.
- The book is based on the true story of Nancy Wake, which provides a sense of authenticity and historical context.
- Sheds light on the role of women in the war effort and the sacrifices they made for their country.
- As a work of historical fiction, the book may take some liberties with the facts and events, which could disappoint readers who expect a more accurate retelling of Nancy Wake’s life.
This is another novel based on real events, following the true story of Pino Lella, a young Italian man who became involved in the Italian resistance during World War II.
The book follows Pino’s journey from a carefree teenager in Milan to a spy for the Allies, as he navigates the dangers and complexities of living in Nazi-occupied Italy.
- A compelling historical account of World War II from an Italian perspective.
- Sheds light on lesser-known aspects of the conflict, such as the role of the resistance and the Nazi occupation of Italy.
- The pacing of the book may feel slow at times, especially during the initial chapters that establish Pino’s background and family life.
This historical fiction novel follows two parallel timelines.
In present-day, Alice, a busy wife and mother, is struggling to come to terms with her grandfather’s declining health and his refusal to speak about his past in Poland during World War II.
In the past timeline, set in 1942, a young Polish girl named Alina is forced to navigate the dangerous landscape of Nazi-occupied Poland and the horrors of the Holocaust.
- Sheds light on the experiences of Polish Jews during World War II.
- The dual timeline structure provides a unique and engaging reading experience.
- The ending may be unsatisfying for some readers who are looking for a more concrete resolution.
Based on the true story of Lale Sokolov, a Slovakian Jew who was sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau during World War II, this book follows Lale’s experiences in the concentration camp, where he is forced to work as the camp tattooist, marking prisoners with identification numbers.
- Covers lesser-known aspects of the Holocaust, such as the role of the camp tattooist.
- Based on the true story of Lale Sokolov, providing an authentic account of life in Auschwitz-Birkenau.
- The book may oversimplify or gloss over aspects of historical events to create a more dramatic narrative.
A gothic mystery novel, The Distant Hours tells the story of Edie Burchill, a young woman who becomes fascinated with the past of her mother, who was evacuated to Milderhurst Castle during World War II.
Edie travels to the castle to interview the three elderly Blythe sisters who lived there during the war and uncovers a complex web of secrets and betrayals that have haunted the family for generations.
- Well-drawn characters with complex relationships and motivations
- Atmospheric setting that adds to the sense of intrigue
- The numerous timelines can be confusing at times
This historical romance novel set in World War II-era London follows Kat, a young American socialite who ventures to Nazi-occupied Paris to bring her younger sister home, who has run away to be with her Nazi officer lover.
- Well-researched historical setting that brings Nazi-occupied Paris to life
- Intriguing espionage plot that adds suspense and tension to the story
- The book may be too romantic for readers looking for a story that is more focused on the war itself.
Sarah’s Key tells the story of two families whose lives are connected by a dark secret.
The novel is set in two different time periods: present-day Paris and 1942 Paris during the Vel’d’Hiv Roundup, a mass arrest of French Jews by the French police.
- A well-researched and emotionally powerful depiction of the Vel’d’Hiv Roundup and its aftermath
- Compelling dual narrative structure
- The portrayal of some characters or events may be seen as stereotypical or clichéd by some readers
A postmodern novel set in the final days of World War II, The English Patient follows four main characters: the English patient, a severely burned and unidentified man being cared for by a Canadian nurse named Hana in an abandoned Italian villa; Caravaggio, a Canadian thief and former spy who arrives at the villa to help Hana care for the patient; and Kip, a Sikh sapper and member of the British Army who works to disarm bombs in Italy.
- Innovative narrative structure blends different perspectives, time periods, and genres
- Rich and detailed descriptions of the Italian landscape
- The book may be too abstract for some readers
Set in France, this novel follows the journey of a young woman named Eva Traube, who is forced to flee Paris in 1942 after the German occupation.
Eva joins the Resistance and becomes involved in creating fake identity documents for Jewish children, helping them escape the country.
- Well-researched depiction of life in France during World War II
- An emotionally resonant story
- Some may find the pacing slow
Set in the aftermath of World War II, this story is told through a series of letters between a writer named Juliet Ashton and the members of the titular society on the island of Guernsey.
- The use of letters as a narrative device creates a unique reading experience
- The novel offers a nuanced perspective on the impact of World War II on the Channel Islands and their inhabitants.
- The historical context might be confusing to those not familiar with the events surrounding the German occupation of the Channel Islands.
Eye of the Needle tells the story of a German spy named Henry Faber, who goes by the code name “The Needle”.
Faber is sent to England with the mission of uncovering the details of the D-Day invasion, but he soon becomes the target of a British intelligence operation.
- Well-researched depiction of the intelligence operations of both the Allies and the Axis powers
- Gripping and suspenseful plot
- Some may find the novel’s portrayal of Germans during World War II to be overly stereotypical.
This classic novel is told from the perspective of a young German boy named Bruno, whose father is a high-ranking Nazi officer.
Bruno discovers a boy of his own age named Shmuel, who lives on the other side of a fence near his house.
Even though Shmuel is a Jewish prisoner in a concentration camp, Bruno strikes up a secret friendship with him, unaware of the horrors that are taking place on the other side of the fence.
- Bruno’s perspective is a fresh, poignant, and unique take on the events of the Holocaust.
- The novel is often used in schools to teach students about the Holocaust and the dangers of prejudice and hatred.
- Some critics have pointed out historical inaccuracies in the novel
This next novel takes place during both World War II and World War I, following two women: Charlie St. Clair, a pregnant American college student in 1947 who is searching for her missing cousin, and Eve Gardiner, a former spy for the British during World War I known as the “Queen of Spies”.
- Strong female characters
- Well researched
- Some may find the plot to be too formulaic
Sage Singer is a young woman who is scarred both physically and emotionally by a car accident that left her with facial disfigurement and caused the death of her mother.
Sage meets an elderly man named Josef Weber, a retired teacher and respected member of their community, and she begins to form a bond with him.
However, Josef has a dark secret: he was a Nazi officer during World War II and played a part in the mass murder of Jews.
- Compelling story
- Multi-layered characters
- The author’s writing style can be dense
A satirical novel, Catch-22 follows the experiences of Captain John Yossarian, a bombardier in the U.S. Army Air Forces who is stationed on a small island off the coast of Italy.
Yossarian is frustrated with the senseless violence of the war and the absurdities of the military bureaucracy, particularly the “catch-22” rule which stipulates that a soldier can only be grounded if they are mentally unfit, but requesting to be grounded is seen as proof of mental fitness.
- Satirical and absurd humor
- Unique narrative structure
- The morbid humor may not be to everyone’s taste.
This next story follows the experiences of an American bomber pilot named Micah Lund, who is shot down and killed over Tokyo, leaving his spirit trapped with his enemies in Japan.
- The book offers a unique perspective as it follows the wandering spirit of a killed pilot
- The book provides a rich and detailed exploration of Japanese culture (for more great Japanese books, see our guide here)
- The book’s structure can be challenging at times
This novel also focuses on remnants of the Japanese experience during the war, following a Japanese American family’s experience during World War II.
The novel is told from the perspectives of each member of the family and is divided into five parts.
- An intimate perspective on the experience of Japanese Americans during World War II.
- The multiple perspectives allow the reader to understand the impact of internment on each member of the family.
- Relatively short
This story is told in the form of a confession from a British spy named Verity, who has been captured by the Gestapo in Nazi-occupied France.
- Engaging and emotional writing
- Intricately woven plot
- Some may find the pacing slow
This novel follows Zofia Lederman, a young Jewish woman who has survived the Holocaust and is now searching for her younger brother, Abek, who was separated from her during the war.
- Complex and well-developed characters
- Can be challenging to follow at times, as it switches between different timelines and perspectives.
The Invisible Bridge follows the story of a Hungarian-Jewish family, the Lévis, and their experiences during the war.
- Lyrical and evocative prose
- Explores important themes
- The novel is quite long and can be slow-moving at times
Set during the siege of Leningrad, this story follows Lev, a young Jewish man who has been arrested for looting, and Kolya, a charismatic Russian soldier who has been imprisoned for desertion.
- Richly detailed descriptions of wartime Leningrad
- A satisfying ending
- The novel’s portrayal of certain historical events has been criticized as inaccurate or overly simplistic
Based on the true story of the Kurc family, a Jewish family from Radom, Poland, who are separated during World War II, this novel follows the family members as they each embark on a harrowing journey across different parts of Europe, facing persecution, forced labor, and death at every turn.
- Based on a true story, adding an element of realism and emotional depth.
- A unique perspective on the Holocaust
- Can be slow-paced at times
Richard Flanagan’s novel tells the story of Australian surgeon Dorrigo Evans, who becomes a prisoner of war during World War II when the Japanese occupy Singapore.
He is sent to work on the construction of the Burma Death Railway, where he is subjected to brutal conditions and is forced to confront the inhumanity of war.
- The historical setting provides a fascinating backdrop to the story, shedding light on a lesser-known aspect of World War II.
- Beautifully written
- Some may find the romance subplot to be a distraction from the main themes of the novel.
A blend of historical fiction and mystery, Clark and Division is set in 1944 Chicago and follows the story of a young Japanese-American woman named Aki Ito, who is forced to leave her university studies and move to the city’s Japanese-American internment camp with her family.
- Interesting plot following Japanese-Americans during World War II.
- The mystery at the heart of the novel is engaging.
- Touches on several themes and subplots, which may be overwhelming
Salt to the Sea tells the story of four young people during World War II, each with their own secrets and desires, whose paths converge on the Wilhelm Gustloff, a ship meant to take refugees from the eastern part of Germany to safety.
- Tackles difficult themes in a thoughtful and sensitive way
- Builds tension and suspense throughout
- The pacing can be slow at times
Atonement is a novel that follows the lives of three characters: Briony Tallis, her older sister Cecilia, and their childhood friend Robbie Turner.
The story is set in England in the 1930s and during World War II.
The novel explores themes of guilt, forgiveness, and the power of storytelling.
- A well-crafted and intricate novel
- Depicts life in England during the 1930s and World War II.
- Can be slow-moving at times
What To Look For When Choosing A World War II Historical Fiction Book
Accuracy And Research
Look for books that are well-researched and historically accurate.
The author should have a deep understanding of the era, events, and context of the time, and have incorporated that knowledge into the story.
Storyline And Plot
The plot should be well-crafted and engaging, with a clear narrative structure that keeps the reader engaged throughout the story.
The storyline should also be historically accurate and reflect the period’s events and conditions.
Perspective And Point Of View
Consider the book’s perspective and point of view. Does it offer a unique perspective on the war that you haven’t seen before?
Does it challenge conventional assumptions about the conflict?
These books not only transport readers to a different time and place but also explore the complex themes and issues that continue to resonate with us today.
Whether you are a history enthusiast or simply looking for a captivating read, these books offer something for everyone.
By reading these novels, we can gain a deeper understanding of the past and the human experience of war, helping us to better appreciate the sacrifices made by those who fought and suffered during this tumultuous time in world history.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can World War II Historical Fiction Books Help Us Learn More About The War?
Yes, World War II historical fiction books can help readers gain a deeper understanding of the war by offering insights into the human experience of the conflict.
Can World War II Historical Fiction Be Used As A Teaching Tool?
Yes, World War II historical fiction can be a valuable teaching tool. It can help students better understand the period’s events and conditions, while also exploring complex issues related to the human experience of war.