Maybe it’s because the last survivors of World War II are dying off and our society is realizing that a lot of information and personal experiences of that shattering time in world history are disappearing forever, or maybe it’s just a new trend that’s arisen for no other reason than that it’s trendy, but I’ve noticed a lot of World War II related historical novels in the last couple of years, looking at the war from many different perspectives. In just the last few weeks, two new books have come to the Field Library, each offering a different perspective on the war, from Germany to the home front.
It’s always at least a little heartening to learn about attempts to assassinate Hitler, even though they (unfortunately) didn’t succeed (and of course it’s a classic time travel trope that someone wants to go back in time and assassinate Hitler; in the excellent Last Year the twist was that a time traveler from the future wanted to assassinate Hitler’s father to keep Adolf from ever being conceived). The new book Cave Dwellers, by Richard Grant, focuses on one such effort, and even though you know the attempt isn’t going to succeed (this is a historical novel, not an alternate history book), the author still involves you with the characters and turns up the suspense. In late 1937, just before the war officially started, Oskar Langwell is recruited into an effort to kill Hitler by one of Germany’s best counterintelligence officers, who knew Oskar from a patriotic youth league in which they were both involved. Oskar is sent on a dangerous mission to Washington, D.C., but he is compromised and has to make his way back into Germany without being caught or even noticed. Crossing the Atlantic with a Socialist expat pretending to be his wife, Oskar is surrounded by Nazis and fellow travelers, his situation becoming more dire and hazardous as he gets closer to Germany.
Turning from the intrigues just before the war to the American home front during the war, we have The Liberators of Willow Run by Marianne K. Martin, which focuses not so much on the B-24 bombers that made such a difference in the aerial battles of the war, as on the lives of the women who left behind the lives expected of them in 1940’s America to work in the factories building those bombers. The book focuses on the experiences of three women working in the Willow Run Bomber plant in 1943, and how Audrey, a patriotic young woman seeking her own independence as well as Allied victory, Ruth, a single mother formerly working as a waitress, and Amelia, a 15 year old rape victim forced to live in dangerous surroundings, come together and demonstrate their own strength, ingenuity and courage as they do their part for the war effort and help change their own world in the process.
By the way, both these books count in the 2017 Reading Challenge as books about war, and The Liberators of Willow Run also qualifies as a LGBTQ+ romance novel.