All right, let me confess right in the beginning that I dig books about wars, specially the Second world war. Not only books but also movies, but we will talk about the books here.
There is something about such books that is too endearing, and too heartwarming and heart- wrenching at the same time, that compels one to finish them in one sitting. Certainly, a good war-book is un-put-downable, if there is a word like that🙂
The pathos, the struggles, the heart breaks, unlikely romances, instances of bravery, demonstrations of humanity and expressions of iron will are far too common in a war, and agonizingly lacking in our day to day life.
Thus, a well written book about a war has the unimaginable power to transport the reader from his or her mundane life to those war fields, those trenches, those households and prisons where strange coincidences are taking place, unlikely permutations and combinations of circumstances are happening, where people are dying at the blink of an eye but others are surviving despite insurmountable odds. A surreal universe where there are improbable twists in the tale leading to severe heart breaks and ‘one in million’ chances delivering salvation to torn-apart lovers.
Yes; it’s a magical word woven by a capable author and indeed such stories were common in the days of great wars, and these books, that I am going to enumerate, must have had their seeds sown in a true story that occurred somewhere in a small part of this globe during those horrifying days.
It gives me goosebumps to think that such stories might be unfolding at this very moment all over the world as we fight the war against Corona virus.
Being an Orthopedic surgeon I have been relegated to the sidelines of this deadly war, but my wife and other colleagues are at the forefront.
This is a tribute as well as my salute to health workers and all others who are in the first line of defence and are facing the fire right now.
So here is a list of some books about wars that I have read over the years, and have loved and cherished:-
1) The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje- This magnificent novel centres around four different type of people brought together in an Italian villa in World war 2 – a severely burnt man, presumed English, a Canadian girl nursing him, a young sikh british soldier and a thief. The story centres around the North African and Italian campaign of world war two and it’s effects on these people. The writing is superb and I often say that it is poetry in the form of prose. The book won Booker prize in 1992 and the prestigious Golden Booker prize in 2018. Absolutely brilliant!
2) A Farewell to arms by Ernest Hemingway:- When it comes to writing about war there is no one better than Hemingway. This book deals with the love story of an American working as a lieutenant in the ambulance corps in Italian army, and a british nurse, who takes care of the lieutenant when he is injured in the world war 1. This book established Hemingway as a prominent writer and is a wonderful romantic story. It’s semi-autobiographical as Hemingway himself served as a soldier in world war 1 in Italy.
3) The Narrow road to deep north by Richard Flangan- This haunting novel describes the horrors suffered by the Prisoners of war at the hands of Japanese during the construction of Burma Railway. The Burma railway is known as -‘Death railway’ in history, as the soldiers were treated extremely cruelly by the Japanese and human experiments were done upon them. The book tracks the life of sn Australian doctor who is captured by japan and sent to Burma. Very sad but true. It won Booker prize in 2014.
4) All the light we cannot see by Anthony Doerr- If ever there was a book that made war look beautiful then it is this one. The setting is German occupied France and main protagonist are- a German boy whose technical efficiency leads to his rapid rise in Nazi Germany; and a blind french girl who, despite her handicap, strives to gain knowledge and spread it through radio transmission, which is considered as treason. Eventually their paths cross in a small french town while the war is raging around them. The boy saves her life as he finds himself falling in love with her. There is a subplot of a famous diamond. When I read the book I was hugely impressed by the writing-it was splendid. The canvass here is vast and the author has painted a fabulous world over it.
5) For Whom the bell tolls by Ernest Hemingway- Here is another gem by Hemingway. Regarded as one of his best works, the book deals with the brutality of Spanish civil war(1936-39) through the eyes of Robert Jordan, an American volunteer fighting as a dynamiter for spanish guerillas from the Republican side against fascist forces. The story revolves around an incident when Robert is assigned to blow a vital bridge. Terse, powerful and ‘ To the point’ in typical Hemingway style, the book was based on Hemingway’s personal experiences as a reporter on the front line during the Spanish civil war.
6) Captain Corelli’s Mandolin by Louis de Bernières:- This very famous book at its heart is a love story, but also depicts the horrors of the war exquisitely. Set in the Greek island of Cephalonia during Italian and German occupation in second world war. An unusual love story develops between an Italian captain, who is also a mandolin player, and a beautiful and well read Greek girl of the island. Written in an unorthodox way the book manages to delight everyone who embarks upon its reading.
7)The Zone of Intrest by Martin Amis- My mind was blown away by this novel. Not only the plot is unique but the characterisation is brilliant. Set in Auschwitz, the concentration camp where millions of jews were terminated by Nazis in second world war.The story deals with an officer in Nazi forces who is enamoured by the commandent’s wife, and his eventual treason towards Hitler. Told from the point of view of three characters-the officer, the commandment and a jew who is in charge of disposing the bodies of other Jews, the book has a refreshing and a new angle on Holocaust i.e. from the other side- from the point of view of Nazis. Highly recommended.
8) The Book Thief by Markus Zusak- I can easily claim that this book can melt the hearts of the most hardened men. This international bestseller’s story is narrated by -Death itself, and tracks the life of a German girl growing up in Nazi germany and her attempts to save the books, by stealing them, which have been marked by the regime for destruction. She also writes a manuscript for posterity but it is destroyed by Nazis. A heart breaking but poignant and beautiful story, it should not be missed.
So these are some of the novels that I thought would intrest the lovers of fiction in these troubled times.
These are available as e-books on various apps like Any books, Amazon Kindle, Play books etc.
Of course there are tons of great books on war but I have included only those which I have read and enjoyed. Please excuse me if any prominent book is missing here. The readers are most welcome to suggest and add more names to the list.
Goodbye all… Stay safe and keep reading.
The Kneedy Traveller.