The People of Forever are Not Afraid , Shani Boianjiu
Though we picked up this book, the tale of three teenagers’ experiences in the Israeli Defense Forces, on the promise that it was a little like Mean Girls meets The Things They Carried, we loved it for being a little bit more like Sheila Heti’s How Should a Person Be? meets, well, The Things They Carried. Irreverent, sometimes touching and often deeply weird, we fell in love with Boinajiu’s voice from the first page. Bottom line? It sucked us in and carried us off at gunpoint.
Suite Française , Irène Némirovsky
Not only is this book phenomenal, but the story behind it is incredible: Irène Némirovsky, a bestselling Jewish author living in Paris, finished writing this novel (really two novels out of a planned five novel set) about the city at the start of the Nazi occupation just months before being shipped off to Auschwitz, where she died. The book, first published some six decades after Némirovsky’s death, explores the war in France on a human, individual level — and is so good that those three unfinished sections haunt us to this day.
Gone With the Wind , Margaret Mitchell
But of course. Margaret Mitchell’s classic romance novel about love, the American Civil War, and the incomparable Scarlett O’Hara still inspires and enthralls today. Frankly my dear… oh, we won’t go on.
The Lotus Eaters , Tatjana Soli
Another debut novel, Soli’s beautiful work chronicles the story of a female photojournalist in Vietnam, hooked on the war and on the love of two men (the title refers to the Greek myth of an island people addicted to the narcotic of the lotus flower). Dangerous in more ways than one and rendered in exquisite language, we think it’s safe to say that this book is one of the best novels written about the Vietnam war, period.
The Time of the Doves, Mercè Rodoreda
This gorgeous stream of consciousness novel by exiled Catalan writer Mercè Rodoreda tells the story of a simple young shopgirl in Barcelona during the Spanish Civil War as she blooms from a downtrodden, submissive adolscent to a powerful, fully actualized woman.
Machine Dreams , Jayne Anne Phillips
Described by The Village Voice as “among the wisest of a generation to grapple with a war that maimed us all,” Phillips’ unsentimental debut novel tells the intricate story of a small town American family as they struggle through the Great Depression and the Vietnam War. The novel moves easily from portraying the most personal consequences to the grandest ones, creating a patchwork of experience that feels real and incredibly essential.
The Time In Between , Maria Dueñas
This breakneck historical novel follows Sira Quiroga, a young couturier to the Nazi elite who becomes a spy for the Allies in the midst of World War II. Exciting at every step, you’ll zip right through these 600+ pages without even coming up for air (okay, maybe once).
The Diary of a Young Girl , Anne Frank
Oh, we know this is technically an autobiography and therefore cheating, but we can’t help it — it was the first war book we ever read and still has a central place in the genre in our minds. Anne Frank’s diary is a classic, one of the most touching and well-painted portrayals of the Holocaust we’ve ever read. If you haven’t read it, firstly, someone should talk to your high school, and secondly, please go do so.
The Regeneration Trilogy , Pat Barker
This set of novels about World War I and its psychological effects (the books are loosely based on the experiences of officers receiving treatment for shell shock during the war at Edinburgh’s Craiglockhart War Hospital) blends history and fiction to an incredibly compelling result, sifting themes of madness, homosexuality, and class along with the more traditional war novel tropes. The third installment, The Ghost Road, won the Booker prize in 1995.
Mrs. Dalloway , Virginia Woolf
This novel doesn’t actually take place during wartime, but somehow it’s always felt like a war novel to us. Sure, it’s WWI veteran Septimus Warren Smith’s post-traumatic stress disorder that invades the novel and drives the action, but somehow that’s not quite all. That Clarissa is a veteran too.