The Top 10 Must-Read WWII Historical Fiction Novels

The Top 10 Must-Read WWII Historical Fiction Novels

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World War II was a defining period of the 20th century, marked by unimaginable horrors, human resilience, and bravery. The impact of this war on literature is immeasurable, and countless authors have written historical fiction novels based on the war’s events. In this article, we will explore ten must-read novels that are set in the World War II era.

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Historical fiction is a genre that combines factual events with fictional characters and settings. World War II is one of the most popular subjects for historical fiction novels, as it was a pivotal moment in world history that has had a lasting impact on our society today. 

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The Top 10 Must-Read WWII Historical Fiction Novels

“The Nightingale” by Kristin Hannah

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah is a gripping and emotional novel that follows the lives of two sisters in Nazi-occupied France during World War II. Vianne and Isabelle, the two sisters, have very different personalities and ways of coping with the war.

Vianne, a mother and wife, is forced to house a German officer in her home while her husband is away fighting in the war. Isabelle, on the other hand, joins the French Resistance and risks her life to help save Jewish children. The novel is a powerful exploration of the bond between sisters and the resilience of the human spirit during the darkest times.

"The Nightingale" by Kristin Hannah

“All the Light We Cannot See” by Anthony Doerr

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr is a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel that takes place in France and Germany during World War II. The novel tells the story of a blind French girl named Marie-Laure and a young German boy named Werner.

Despite their different backgrounds and experiences, Marie-Laure and Werner’s lives intersect as they both struggle to survive the war. The novel is a beautiful and poignant exploration of the power of hope and the strength of the human spirit.

"All the Light We Cannot See" by Anthony Doerr

“The Book Thief” by Markus Zusak

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak is a heart-wrenching novel set in Nazi Germany during World War II. The novel follows the life of a young girl named Liesel Meminger, who is sent to live with a foster family after her own family is taken away by the Nazis.

Liesel finds solace in books and becomes a skilled thief, stealing books from the mayor’s house and sharing them with her neighbours during bombing raids. The novel is a powerful exploration of the power of literature to provide comfort and hope during times of great darkness.

"The Book Thief" by Markus Zusak

“Schindler’s List” by Thomas Keneally

Schindler’s List by Thomas Keneally is a historical fiction novel based on the true story of Oskar Schindler, a German businessman who saved the lives of more than a thousand Jewish refugees during the Holocaust.

The novel follows Schindler’s transformation from a profiteer who uses Jewish labour to an activist who risks his own life to save his workers. The novel is a moving exploration of the power of individual acts of courage and kindness to make a difference in the face of great evil.

"Schindler's List" by Thomas Keneally

“The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas” by John Boyne

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne is a heart-wrenching novel set in Auschwitz during World War II. The novel tells the story of a young German boy named Bruno, whose father is a high-ranking Nazi officer. Bruno befriends a Jewish boy named Shmuel, who lives on the other side of a fence in the concentration camp.

The novel is a powerful exploration of the horrors of the Holocaust and the innocence of childhood.

"The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas" by John Boyne

“City of Thieves” by David Benioff

City of Thieves by David Benioff is a gripping and often humorous novel set during the Siege of Leningrad in World War II. The novel tells the story of Lev, a young Russian man who is arrested for looting and thrown into prison. While in prison, Lev meets Kolya, a charming and charismatic soldier who has been arrested for desertion.

The two men are given a chance to save themselves from execution by finding a dozen eggs for a powerful Soviet colonel. The novel is a thrilling and often hilarious adventure that explores the complexities of human nature in times of war.

"City of Thieves" by David Benioff

“The English Patient” by Michael Ondaatje

The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje is a beautifully written and evocative novel set in the final days of World War II. The story follows four characters, including a critically injured Englishman known only as the “English Patient,” who are brought together in an Italian villa. The novel explores themes of identity, memory, and love, and is a testament to the power of human connection in the face of tragedy.

"The English Patient" by Michael Ondaatje

“Empire of the Sun” by J.G. Ballard

Empire of the Sun is a semi-autobiographical novel by J.G. Ballard that is set in Shanghai during World War II. The novel follows a young British boy named Jim, who is separated from his parents during the Japanese occupation of Shanghai in 1941.

The book is a coming-of-age story that depicts Jim’s struggle to survive in a brutal and chaotic world, as well as his attempt to find a sense of identity amidst the chaos of war.

The novel explores the themes of displacement, identity, and survival in the face of adversity. It highlights the psychological impact of war on individuals and the lengths they will go to survive. It also depicts the complex and often ambiguous relationships that exist between individuals during times of crisis.

"Empire of the Sun" by J.G. Ballard

“Catch-22” by Joseph Heller

Catch-22 is a satirical novel by Joseph Heller that is set during World War II. The novel follows the experiences of Captain John Yossarian, a B-25 bombardier stationed on the island of Pianosa in the Mediterranean. Yossarian is convinced that everyone is trying to kill him and is desperate to escape the war, but he is trapped by the bureaucratic rules of the military.

The novel explores the absurdity of war and the military bureaucracy. It highlights the Catch-22 logic that pervades military life, where individuals are trapped by rules that are designed to protect them but ultimately put them in harm’s way. The novel is a scathing critique of war and its impact on individuals, as well as a commentary on the absurdities of modern life.

"Catch-22" by Joseph Heller

Read our post “Review: The Insightful Catch-22 by Joseph Heller” here.

“The Thin Red Line” by James Jones

This novel tells the story of the Battle of Guadalcanal, a significant conflict in the Pacific theater of World War II. The book is known for its deep and complex portrayal of soldiers in war and their experiences. It also explores themes of mortality, camaraderie, and the effects of war on the human psyche.

The book was adapted into a critically acclaimed film directed by Terrence Malick in 1998. Overall, “The Thin Red Line” is a powerful and thought-provoking novel that offers a unique perspective on the events of World War II.

"The Thin Red Line" by James Jones


World War II was a transformative period in human history, and the literature that emerged from it reflects the complexity and enormity of the events that occurred. The historical fiction novels listed above are just a small sample of the vast array of literature that exists on the topic of World War II. Each of these books provides a unique perspective on the war, highlighting the experiences of individuals who lived through it.

Whether exploring the horrors of the Holocaust, the psychological impact of war, or the absurdities of military life, these books remind us of the importance of remembering the past and learning from it. By reading these books, we can gain a deeper understanding of the human experience during one of the darkest periods of human history.


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