Veteran’s Day and Books about War

In honor of Veterans Day, for those of us in the U.S., Booking Through Thursday asks, do you read books about war? Fictional or historical?

I can’t say war stories are a favorite genre, but many favorite books have been about war, both historical and fantastical — in fact, it’s hard to name a great fantasy book that doesn’t involve war in one way or another: Harry Potter, Narnia, etc.

But since this is Veteran’s Day, here are some books about real wars.

One of my favorite books is Gone to Soldiers by Marge Piercy. I get the feeling not too many have read this book, at least not since the late 80s/early 90s.  Somehow, amidst all of the great, compelling WWII literature out there (Night and Diary of Anne Frank, to name two), this one stands out for me.  First, Piercy’s story looks at the war on many of its fronts – from concentration camp victims and displaced Jewish imimigrants, to military decoders, to French resistance fighters, to the first female pilots in the US.  Piercy gives us WWII in all its grand scope and all its ugliness, but she concentrates on the human effects of the war rather than the military history.  For example, we see how women in the US became professionals during the war on a level they had never been before, and how they would be asked to return to their traditional roles after the war.  We see Jewish families torn apart by the Holocaust, not only in Europe but in the US as well.  We see returning soldiers who have to readjust to life at home, and the wives who have to adjust with them.

This question also reminded me of a series by Anne Perry about WWI beginning with No Graves as Yet.  Perry writes historical mysteries set in Victorian England, so this was a quite a change for her. The books are mysteries, thrillers, historical fiction, and at the same time a detailed depiction of WWI.  As with a lot of Anne Perry novels, she goes into so much detail that these aren’t the most well-written books… but for someone who wants to be able to visualize historical events, rather than reading dates and names, these books provide some of the most visual descriptions of WWI I’ve read.

One more I’ll mention is the new Leviathan series by Scott Westerfeld.  I just finished Book 2, Behemoth.  This is a YA steampunk series set during WWI – one of the main characters is a British girl and the other is the heir to the Hapsburgs of Austria.  Westerfeld has created a world where the “Darwinists” are fighting the “Clankers” – one side creates tools, transport and weapons out of genetically engineered creatures, and the other side uses only machines.  These books are great fantasy, great YA, but also a nice way to learn about WWI.  Behemoth centers around Istanbul, and describes the tactical importance of the area and how the different sides are fighting for alliance with Istanbul (or Constantinople as the British call it) to obtain rights to river and air transport.  Westerfeld describes ship and air battles that actually took place (with a nice explanation at the end of what was factual and what was not).  If you like your history with a lot of fantasy mixed in, these books are awesome.  (I love all things Scott Westerfeld if you haven’t picked that up by now.)

There’s a part of me that feels I should be reading books with more military and historical substance.  But with a few rare exceptions, nonfiction just doesn’t stick with me.  I want to understand the experience of war, instead of just what happened when.

I also know I’m ignoring a lot of great war literature like Night and Diary of Anne Frank, Red Badge of Courage, All’s Quiet on the Western Front, etc. You already know those books are out there.  Which reminds me of one more thing: in grade school I had a “gifted” teacher assign all the girls in my class to read Jane Eyre, and all the boys to read Red Badge of Courage.  Hard to believe, right? This resulted in an irrational hatred of both books — and a perfectly rational hatred of that teacher.  I don’t know, I just never got past that. So Red Badge, not on my TBR list.

So on this Veterans Day, what are the books, literary or nonliterary, fiction or nonfiction, that are most memorable for you?

  1 comment for “Veteran’s Day and Books about War

  1. Helen
    November 12, 2010 at 11:09 pm

    Birdsong by Sebastian Faulk (WWI)
    Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes (Vietnam)

    Thanks for the Westerfeld tip. They sound interesting.

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