World War II -- fiction
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The Zookeeper's Wife: A War Story by Diane Ackerman
The true story of how the keepers of the Warsaw Zoo saved hundreds of people from Nazi hands. When Germany invaded Poland, Stuka bombers devastated Warsaw—and the city's zoo along with it. With most of their animals dead, zookeepers Jan and Antonina Żabiński began smuggling Jews into empty cages. Another dozen "guests" hid inside the Żabińskis' villa, emerging after dark for dinner, socializing, and, during rare moments of calm, piano concerts. Jan, active in the Polish resistance, kept ammunition buried in the elephant enclosure and stashed explosives in the animal hospital. Meanwhile, Antonina kept her unusual household afloat, caring for both its human and its animal inhabitants—otters, a badger, hyena pups, lynxe—and keeping alive an atmosphere of play and innocence even as Europe crumbled around her. (catalog summary)
The Zookeeper's Wife is a 2017 British-American war drama film directed by Niki Caro and written by Angela Workman. The film stars Jessica Chastain, Johan Heldenbergh, Michael McElhatton and Daniel Brühl. The film is scheduled to be released on March 31, 2017, by Focus Features. View the offical HD Trailer below the book recommendations.
Looking for a war-time drama like The Zookeeper's Wife? Check out these other titles.
A Blessing on the Moon by Joseph Skibell
At the center of A Blessing on the Moon is Chaim Skibelski. Death is merely the beginning of Chaim s troubles. In the opening pages, he is shot along with the other Jews of his small Polish village. But instead of resting peacefully in the World to Come, Chaim, for reasons unclear to him, is left to wander the earth, accompanied by his rabbi, who has taken the form of a talking crow. Chaim's afterlife journey is filled with extraordinary encounters whose consequences are far greater than he realizes. (catalog summary)
Sherri L. Smith’s Flygirl is an extremely moving historical novel about friendship, freedom, love, and loyalty.
Ida Mae Jones dreamed of doing something to help U.S. troops defeat the Nazis in World War II. She was young, smart, and knew how to fly an airplane. But that wasn’t enough, not even when they started accepting women to fly non-combat missions. Because Ida Mae was black, and only white women were allowed to join the flying service. So there was no way she could help win the war and bring her brother home all the sooner. Unless she broke the rules.
What would you do to survive in wartime? What would you sacrifice? Whom would you sacrifice? Three refugees—all teens—are on the losing side of World War II. They are struggling through the German-Prussian countryside, heading for the same destination—a German evacuation camp of civilians and wounded soldiers on the Baltic Sea. They're hoping for some kind of safety from the Russians who, coming from one direction, will kill them and the Allied Forces, coming from another direction, who could do the same. But they are not even safe from their own countrymen, because all three also have secrets. Ones they are desperate to protect. Ones that could mean they are left behind in the snow by the others to die if they are not killed by the bombs first.
This readalike is in response to a customer's book-match request. If you would like personalized reading recommendations, fill out the book-match form and a librarian will email suggested titles to you. Available for adults, teens, and kids. You can browse other book matches here.
If you like history and listening to it, here are a few highly recommended audiobooks set in World War II:
All Clear by Connie Willis
After three Oxford historians travel back in time to the year 1940, historical records indicate that at least one of them affected the past and changed the outcome of World War II. (catalog summary)
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
Marie Laure lives with her father in Paris and is blind by age six. Her father builds her a model of their neighborhood, so she can memorize it and navigate the real streets. When the Germans occupy Paris, they flee to Saint-Malo on the coast. In Germany, Werner grows up enchanted by a crude radio he finds. He becomes a master at building and fixing radios, which wins him a place with the Hitler Youth. Werner travels throughout Europe, and finally to Saint-Malo, where his meets Marie Laure. Winner of the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Literature. (catalog summary)
Atonement by Ian McEwan
In the summer of 1935, 13-year-old Briony Tallis wildly misinterprets the relationship between her sister Cecilia and Robbie Turner, childhood friends home from Cambridge. So when her young cousin is assaulted, Briony gives in to her hyperactive imagination and blames the atrocity on Robbie. It is a terrible decision that alters lives and fills Briony with an everlasting sense of guilt. (catalog summary)
The old house Maggie inherited from her English grandmother was a testament to bygone days of glory. Maggie only meant to come to London to sell it, but with the housing market down and war raging in Europe—and most definitely threatening England—Maggie decided to keep it and fill it with her twentysomething friends.
Sarah is a dancer. “Chuck” is that tough yet tender rarity for the 1940s—a woman doctor. Paige is an old classmate from Wellesley, a Southern belle. Then there are the boy-crazy twins who live for the theatre.
“Life Unworthy of Life”
The Nazi leaders (mostly) went along with idea of eugenics. That is, having more of the types of people they thought were worthy of keeping around, while getting rid of the people they believed were undesirable—whom they considered a “burden to society.” They blamed the Jews for the economic troubles their country faced after World War I. So, in their “Final Solution,” the Jews had to go. The horrors as millions of people—mothers, children, fathers, businesspeople, craftspeople, retirees—were taken to their imprisonment and death is remembered as the Holocaust.
Elizabeth Wein’s Code Name Verity starts with something different and unexpected, a story’s protagonist, or hero, not being very heroic. Our protagonist, a young female British spy, is being held hostage in an aristocratic hotel in Nazi-occupied France. While other spies would withstand any amount of torture in order to protect their friends, family, and country, Code Name Verity’s protagonist, whose name and identity are a secret, begins by making a deal with the Gestapo. She will give them anything and everything they want to know, including writing the story of how she arrived in Nazi-occupied France, and, in return, they will feed her, clothe her, stop torturing her, and they will not kill her—for now.
The Pianist: The Extraordinary True Story of One Man's Survival in Warsaw, 1939-45 by Władysław Szpilman: A Jewish pianist's real-life account of survival in World War II Warsaw.
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I’m not sure I’ve read a book as simultaneously uplifting and horrifying as The Book Thief. Perhaps this is not too surprising as it’s narrated by Death himself.
Marjorie Burke was angry. Her little sister had married an Orthodox Jew and seemed to change overnight from a fun-loving, normal, naughty girl into a serious wife and mother—and a very religious one, in keeping with her new husband’s beliefs. As a grad student immersed in ancient stories of the White Rebbe, a Jewish holy man and magician, Majorie has an academic historian’s point of view on legends. She never expected them to come calling in real life or to have to face down a supernatural being called The Angel of Losses on her own.