If for each war victim would a war book be written, then each one of these books would be a must read, in their honor, don’t you think? War stories, as we remember them told by grandparents, always had something nostalgic about them, although the brutality of war, in its essence, was remembered as a traumatic experience. Perhaps the nostalgia came from the people caught in battles, the friendship,the humanity that united them.
The richness of emotions that both warrior and narrator go through when dealing with this subject has fascinated plenty of authors throughout time. Perhaps for an author another intriguing aspect is the location, as war novels generally take place in territories far away, if not geographically then through their descriptions, full of blood and pain, love, loss and hope. Time frame presents an alluring aspect as well, a war story will have a before and an after, while characters don’t have to have come with a pedigree to be memorable. In a war story anyone can be a hero,a soldier, a child, a dog. War stories also stir issues connected with spiritual inheritance, loss of memory (spiritual or factual) and, last but not least, identity and humanity.
Essential in all the novels below is the viscerality of writing and the relentless way in which a war changes a man forever. Reading such a type of novel will raise many questions about our condition as people and will make you aware that nothing is guaranteed when it comes to an extreme experience, one having the potential for total transformation.
7 War Books You Must Read:
1 – Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
A book just as popular nearly one hundred years after publication, to me the main theme in Gone with the Wind is that of survival.
The novel combines several genres (psychological, buildungsroman, romance, historical ) and manages to create an unforgettable story, perhaps the most beloved story about the Confederate States of America. and it does this by the use of its main characters, especially Scarlett O’Hara.
The theme of survival and the reason for the courage that derives from it, the power to never give up as well as the unbridled passion of a young soul, the love for money and the saying “Tomorrow is another day”, plus the ability to identify, to some extent , with the characters of the novel, still make Gone with the Wind a modern work, although the historical background belongs to the American Civil War era of the United States history.
Do you know what inspired the title? It was a line from the poem Non sum qualis eram bonae sub regno Cynarae by Ernest Dowson; the poem’s most famous line is: “I have forgot much, Cynara! gone with the wind.”
“If Gone With the Wind has a theme it is that of survival. What makes some people come through catastrophes and others, apparently just as able, strong, and brave, go under? It happens in every upheaval. Some people survive; others don’t. What qualities are in those who fight their way through triumphantly that are lacking in those that go under? I only know that survivors used to call that quality ‘gumption.’ So I wrote about people who had gumption and people who didn’t.’Margaret Mitchell, Gone with the Wind
2 -War and Peace by Lev Tolstoy
Praised for being very much in line with the reality, the events of War and Peace take place in 1812, during Napoleon’s invasion of Russia, and were rendered with force and expressiveness by Lev Tolstoy, especially because the author already lived the experience of war, fighting in the Crimean War. It is recommended to read in episodes, taking into account the fact that the novel has over 1000 pages.
The novel is the chronicle of three families from the high Russian aristocracy of beginning of the 19th century, Rostov, Bolkonsky and Bezuhov, whose joys, love stories and dramas take place during the Napoleonic Wars, especially the Austerlitz and Borodino battles. The book raises questions about survival and death during peace and war, as well as the necessity of war. Napoleon’s invasion of Russia destroyed million of lives on both sides, and worth mentioning is that, beside he Russian lives lost, the French army lost about half a million of soldiers of French, Italian, Belgian, German and Austrian nationalities.
A definite whirlwind of love, loss, and war.
3 – A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway
Hemingway’s short semi-autobiographical novel takes place on the Italian front during the First World War and describes a man’s struggles with two experiences that altered his existence in one way or another: the experience of war and that of love.
But war offers fake hopes of glory and is a lover that does not accept sharing – only by turning into a deserter can the hero hope to find true love.
It is a manifesto against the absurdity called war; it is the story of an logical man who understands that his fulfillment as a human being stands above the ambitions of those who incite towards unnecessary battles, a fulfillment that can be achieved peacefully, without weapons and without sacrificing human lives.
4 – King Rat by James Clavell
Believe it or not, this was the author’s literary debut. Set during World War II, the novel describes the struggle for survival of American, Australian, British, Dutch, and New Zealander prisoners of war in a Japanese death camp in Singapore. Clavell himself was a prisoner in the notorious Changi Prison camp, where the novel is set. One of the three major characters, Peter Marlowe, is based upon Clavell.
Clavell’s King Rat is a story about the struggle for survival, about friendship and hatred, in an extremely harsh, dehumanized world, in which only the strongest resist.
5 – Bridge of Spies: A True Story of the Cold War by Giles Whittell
This is actually a 2010 nonfiction book documenting the spy prisoner exchanges between the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Tom Hanks does a magnificent job as James B. Donovan under Spielberg’s direction in the 2015 movie with the same title.
Bridge of Spies, remarkably researched, tells the true story of three incredible characters and those who cross their paths: William Fisher, alias Rudolf Abel, a British born KGB agent arrested by the FBI and jailed as a Soviet superspy for trying to steal America’s nuclear secrets; Gary Powers, an American U-2 pilot captured during a reconnaissance mission over the closed cities of central Russia; and Frederic Pryor, a young American graduate student in Berlin mistakenly identified by Stasi, East Germany’s secret police, as spy, arrested and held without charge.
Bridge of Spies is a lesson on humanity tinged by the sour taste of pathological mistrust that fuels the arms race and the political espionage.
6 – The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
This contemporary novel exploring the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 and the years-long struggle the Afghan people was faced with, resulting in the flight of refugees to Pakistan, Iran or America. Told through the voices of two mercenaries, the book demonstrates that although conflicts and wars change over time, carnage and destruction always remain the same.
7 – Silent Heroes, When Love and Values Are Worth Fighting for by Patricia Furstenberg
Silent Heroes looks at the War in Afghanistan through the eyes of those caught in it: US Marines, local population, and even the Taliban.
If in other novels that talk about war the collective drama is the main focus, which seems to crush the small pains of the individual, Furstenberg focuses on human interactions, placing great emphasis on the turmoil the heroes go through, be it US Marines or the Afghan populace. Silent Heroes underlines how family ties and love are the reality that will never be obliterated by war and it will always stand, no mater what forces will try to overpower life on earth.
A book not to be missed, Silent Heroes is masterfully researched and punctuated with epic description that offer a respire from the harsh realities of war. A story about humans, but about dogs too, especially the military dogs taking part in wars.
Chose as one of the 5 Books Everyone Should Read in Their Lifetime.