Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Book Shelf Seminar: War Heroes

I'm an unlikely war correspondent, but I've gotten well-acquainted with many heroes over the years. In fact, I've met them in cafes, trains, airplanes, even in bed, and listened to their tales breathlessly. Just today Helen Kirkpatrick shared her experience during the London Blitz:

"London still stood the next morning, which was the greatest surprise to me as I cycled home in the light of early dawn, after the most frightening night I have ever spent. But not all of London was still there, and some of the things I saw would scare the wits out of anyone.

"When the sirens first shrieked on Saturday, it was evident we were in for something . . . the first screaming bomb started on its downward track . . . punctuated by guns near and far. The smoke brought tears to my eyes, and the glow around the horizon looked as though the entire city would be in flames any minute."—9 September 1940, Chicago Daily News

Woman Writing in Cafe

Helen was a writer, and though she never knew me, she's one of my war correspondents. I can sit on this side of World War II and pore over the adventures of heroes and heroines both real and imagined by authors like her. Recently I read four very different novels about that intriguing time:
  1. The Reader, by Bernhard Schlink
  2. Defiance: The Bielski Partisans by Nechama Tec
  3. Sarah's Key by Tatiana de Rosenay
  4. Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer
The situations in each book are true. Defiance is true to the last detail, with quotes by descendants of the characters talking about the realities. The movie is fascinating, too, but with violent war scenes.

The Reader
is provocative. It has several descriptive love scenes at the first of the book. You don't have to read every word to get the important story line. Two thirds of the book takes place after the love affair is over. The movie follows the book almost word for word, but the love scenes are pretty vivid during the first half hour. If that is not your cup of cocoa, you might enjoy the book more, or use your ff remote button.

Sarah's Key
would be a great book-club selection, and even has discussion questions at the end. It's about 4,000 Jewish children who were rounded up in Paris by French police, and separated from their parents in 1942. I was unfamiliar with this story from history. The book is poignant, heart-breaking and sweet. I love the way it was written—back and forth between two characters in 1942 and 2002.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
is a collection of letters from a journalist to people who lived through the war on an occupied island in the English Channel. We watched a beautifully filmed British mini-series a few years ago called Island at War, which tells a similar story.

Photograph by Doisneau

The atmosphere, secrecy, daring—the locations and history of the era fascinate me. In the World War II book genre I have dozens of recommendations, but I'll limit myself to just a dozen more. All of these books are historical fiction with the exception of The Hiding Place, which is a true story. Expect mystery, spies, thrills and romance.
    1. The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom
    2. Eye of the Needle by Ken Follett
    3. A Princess in Berlin by Arthur R. G. Solmssen
    4. The Odessa File by Frederick Forsythe
    5. Spies of Warsaw by Alan Furst
    6. Salzburg Connection by Helen MacInnes
    7. The Shellseekers by Rosamunde Pilcher
    8. Night Sky by Clare Frances
    9. Winds of War by Herman Wouk
    10. Enigma by Robert Harris
    11. The Unlikely Spy by Daniel Silva
    12. Ordinary Heroes by Scott Turow

Read all of Alan Furst's books

As I drag myself out of a bookstore my thought is always, "So much to read, so little time." I am exhilarated by so many subjects. One interest leads to another, and so it goes, until I'm off on another tangent that's entertaining and new.
    "What we learn depends on what we read after all the professors have finished with us.
    The greatest university of all is the collection of books."
    —Thomas Carlyle.

Homework: Choose any or all, or be inspired.

~Write about a hero you met in a book as if you actually know them. Idea: "I was in 5th grade when I met Helen Keller. She was about my age, but_____"

~Google or check Amazon for a novel that takes place in a time that fascinates you. Ideas: San Francisco in 1900; Shanghai in 1930; New Orleans in 1820.

~What books or movies about World War II would you recommend?

*If you do any part of this assignment on your blog, please link it back to TravelinOma and provide proper attribution. Leave a comment here (with a link to your homework if you want to share it) and/or a link to your blog (so we can get to know you.) School Days has open enrollment so join anytime. No make-up work required! If you're new, click here for an orientation.


the wrath of khandrea said...

a HUGE thank you for this post. my dad is much like you in that he devours war books. i am constantly on the hunt for decent ones to help keep birthdays and christmases happy and merry.

you just helped me entirely check off one person from my shopping list.

next post: please give low-budget ideas for greedy, materialistic tweens.

gab said...

For the Boys. The Shellseekers. Shining Through. South Pacific.

WWII is my all-time favorite war.

dalene said...


and ooooo, i love the images in this post.

Emily said...

Dear Oma,

I listened to you talk about blogs at Women's Conference a few years ago and have since started one and love it. Thanks for opening my eyes to the joy of blogging.

I have been doing some of your homework assignements via a friend Jenny at formerly phread ( I love all your ideas on what to blog is so much fun.



Amanda said...

The Book Thief is an amazing WWII novel. Beautiful writing!

Snickerdoodle said...

Thank you for the book list. WWII is my favorite time period,too. I have read "Winds of War" and "War and Rememberance" at least a dozen times each and I have the cd's for the mini-series. I would be interested in the rest of your book list during this period in any part of the world. Thanks, also, to your readers for their recommendations. It would be fun to start a book club online.

polly said...

my all time favorite was "the shellseekers" I loved how Penelope and her family coped as they lived through the war. Thanks for sharing "Sarah's Key" and the "Potatoe Peeling Society" with me, I'd also recommend them. They were great!

diane said...

I read Sarah's Key this summer. Such a terrifyingly beautiful little gem. I'm currently reading The Guernsey Literary...This is a fascinating time period. Makes me wonder what the stories of the current war will be like. I have read a few books about that as well...Kabul Beauty School is a favorite.

Jordan and Jandee said...

I'm so glad you highlighted The Guernsey Literary was my favorite read of the summer. Loved it. Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky is most definitely my favorite WWII time period novel. I've read several of the other books you listed and I think you would love this one!

Miranda said...

Oh my gosh Oma, you've done it again. Historic fiction is my FAVORITE genre of book and I had just been asking my friends for suggestions (the results were meager). I'm off to add every recommendation you just made to my goodreads. Thanks!

Diane Linford said...

I love the book/reading schoolwork. I too love reading about WWII. Thanks for the book suggestions.

Here's my assignment:week 4 assign 3

Mrs. Organic said...

There is something about WWII that draws me in. I really enjoy this genre.

This is my personal favorite.

audrey said...

This era speaks to me as well.


Allison said...

Great post! I always love book recommendations. WWII-era books are ones I often overlook, for some reason, so thanks for the new titles.


Holly said...

I've been following your seminar posts, savoring each one, even though this is my first time to comment.

Thank you for sharing so many WWII must-reads, I enjoy reading about that time period. Some on your list I have read, but will definitely check out the others. I recently finished City of Thieves by Daniel Benioff, very good though some R rated language/scenes. Skeletons at the Feast by Chris Bohjalian and Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky were also hard to put down.

cannwin said...

I love kissing pictures. *sigh* that one where they are standing in the group is one of my favorites.

My friends warn me that I can't put a bunch of kissing pictures on my walls lest I look odd.

Well, I'm sure my husband wouldn't appreciated it either. hehehe

~j. said...

Hello! I'm back!