“The real tragedy of our postcolonial world is not that the majority of people had no say in whether or not they wanted this new world; rather, it is that the majority have not been given the tools to negotiate this new world.”
When I was in college I was assigned to read Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie for my Modern Africa history class. I had never read any of Adichie’s work, but once I was finished with Half of a Yellow Sun, Adichie became one of my favorite authors.
Half of a Yellow Sunvividly depicts the horrors of war. I would advise readers to take caution if you are sensitive to descriptions of this kind.
The novel is a historical fiction of before, after, and during Nigeria’s Biafra War (1967-1970). The story follows five characters: Ugwu, a teenage houseboy who works for university professor, Odenigbo; Olanna, the professor’s mistress; and Richard, an Englishman who falls in love with Olanna’s twin sister Kainene. Adichie’s beautiful use of storytelling envelopes the readers in the lives and struggles of the characters. The characters experience love, loss, violence, and betrayal throughout the story.
There were many things I loved about this novel. One was how Adichie created characters who showed all aspects of a country at war. She was able to intertwine the lives of characters whose personalities, backgrounds, and experiences differed. Adichie highlighted the comfortable life of Odenigbo, who lived as a university professor, as well as the harsh realities of war refugee camps Olanna and Kainene faced.
She also added themes of colonialism and how it affects the identities of the characters. Adichie’s poignant writing style reveals the stark truth about Nigeria’s history and the struggle its people have faced. The characters believed independence from Britain would solve their problems, but they ultimately faced challenges they did not expect when their freedom was gained. Adichie describes this battle in an emotional manner, which leaves the reader questioning what freedom really means.
Note: For those following our Online Reading Challenge, Chimamada Ngozie Adichie is our Read-Alike author for November 2021. Any of the books that Mary mentions here would be great choices for that challenge!
Hello Fellow Readers! It’s hard to believe but it’s the end of April already – how did you do with this month’s Reading Challenge? For me, the hard part was picking which book to read – there are so many excellent books set during World War II. Did you find any gems that you’d like to share with us? Please let us know.
I was planning on reading two books, but ended up having time for only one – The Book Thiefby Markus Zusak. This is a pretty amazing book. It did take me awhile to learn the rhythm and pace of the book and to accept the narrator, but once I did, it was nearly impossible to stop reading.
Narrated by Death, The Book Thief follows the fortunes of a poor street in a suburb of Munich during the war, especially the story of Liesel Meminger. After her little brother dies and her mother abandons her to foster care, Liesel goes to live with the Hubermann’s. In their own wildly different ways, Hans and Rosa love Liesel and raise her as their own. As the war arrives and hardships mount, they hang on grimly, finding happiness in simple things such as music, a stolen apple and books.
One day Hans fulfills a promise and agrees to hide a young Jewish man in their basement. Max and Liesel become fast friends, sharing stories and bound by their shared pain and nightmares. When it becomes too dangerous and Max must leave, Liesel and the Hubermanns are devastated. The hardships mount – rationing, the growing presence of the Nazi’s and the carpet bombing of Munich and its neighboring towns. Huddled with neighbors in a basement during a bombing, Liesel reads aloud from one of her stolen books, bringing comfort and some calm to the frightened people.
Through it all, Death watches. His voice is wry and even humorous at times, and he is surprisingly compassionate, puzzled by the cruelty and moved by the agony he witnesses. His arrival often means the end of suffering and is welcomed. He narrates Liesel’s story lovingly, even gently – he is impressed by the young girl, not only her will to live, but to find happiness.
The choice of Death as narrator is especially interesting as is the fact that he’s presented as a sympathetic character. His ability to see across history and vast distances brings a unique perspective. His descriptions of gathering the soul’s of the dead and taking them to their eternal rest is often gentle and tender; he always carries the souls of children in his arms. The view of the war from the German home front is also interesting. There is no such thing as simple “good” or “evil” (with the exception of the Nazis) – they are like any human with complex, often conflicting emotions and actions, capable of great cruelty but also great kindness.
This is not a light and happy book, yet it is also not altogether a dark book. The sadness and suffering are very real, but hope for humanity remains. That there is some kindness and that there is an end to the suffering combine to create a book of lasting power. Highly recommended.
May is nearly here – on Monday we’ll start on the next step on our year long Reading Challenge – graphic novels. Who’s with me?!
How are you getting along with this month’s Reading Challenge? I haven’t gotten very far in my book (The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak) – spring happened (finally) and a lot of my time has been taken up by garden chores. However, I have some great opportunities coming up soon for time to read and look forward to getting caught up.
Have you found a great World War II book to read yet? Or are you still searching? There are so many good ones, maybe you’re having trouble picking just one! If you’re struggling – or just looking to read more World War II fiction, here are a few more suggestions.
The Distant Hours by Kate Morton. A long-lost letter arriving at its destination fifty years after it was sent lures Edie Burchill to crumbling Milderhurst Castle, home of the three elderly Blythe sisters, where Edie’s mother was sent to stay as a teenager during World War II.
The Race for Paris by Meg Clayton. A moving and powerfully dynamic World War II novel about two American journalists and an Englishman, who together racethe Allies to OccupiedParisforthe scoop of their lives.
China Dolls by Lisa See. A rich portrait of female friendship, as three young women navigate the “Chop Suey Circuit” – America’s extravagant all-Asian revues of the 1930s and ’40s – and endure the attack on Pearl Harbor and the shadow of World War II.
The Postmistress by Sarah Blake. In London covering the Blitz with Edward R. Murrow, Frankie Bard meets a Cape Cod doctor in a shelter and promises that she’ll deliver a letter for him when she finally returns to the United States.
Louise’s War by Sarah Shaber. Louise Pearlie has come to Washington DC to work as a clerk for the legendary OSS, the precursor to the CIA. When she discovers a document concerning a college friend, Louise realizes she may be able to help get her out of Vichy France. But then a colleague whose help Louise has enlisted is murdered, and she realizes she is on her own.
The Rising Tide by Jeff Shaara. As Hitler conquers Poland, Norway, France, and most of Western Europe, England struggles to hold the line. When Germany’s ally Japan launches a stunning attack on Pearl Harbor, America is drawn into the war, fighting to hold back the Japanese conquest of the Pacific, while standing side-by-side with their British ally, the last hope for turning the tide of the war. First of a trilogy.
Language of the Dead by Stephen Kelly. As the shadow of World War II descends over Europe, Detective Inspector Thomas Lamb hunts for an elusive killer behind the veil of a seemingly charming English village.
Pacific Glory by Peter Deutermann. A thrilling, multilayered World War II adventure following two men and an unforgettable woman, from Pearl Harbor through the most dramatic air and sea battles of the war.
Let us know what you’re reading! And good luck with the rest of your April Reading Challenge!
Hello and welcome to the April Online Reading Challenge! This month’s theme is The Good War – World War II in Fiction. There are lots of amazing titles this month – it’s going to be hard to pick just one!
First off, no war is “good” – terrible things happen during every war. But World War II is sometimes called the “good” war because we (the Allies) were fighting true evil (the Nazis) and the only way to stop them was through force. On the surface, at least, it was a war fought for noble reasons. It’s also a war when ordinary people took on an extraordinary task, fought by a generation (the “greatest generation”) that faced this challenge with the same grim determination that got them through the Great Depression. It is a time period that has been romanticized, but we should always remember that there was great pain and suffering as well.
World War II has long been one of the most popular subjects in the library, both in fiction and non-fiction. While many of the people who actually lived during that time period (1939-1945) are now gone, many of us have heard stories from our parents and grandparents, so it is still vivid in our memories.
There is no shortage of excellent books set during World War II; the problem is narrowing the list to manageable proportions! Here are a few of my favorites to get you started.
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. Set primarily in France and Germany, it moves between two main characters, one a blind French girl living in a small town along the Normandy coast, the other a young German soldier who is recruited into Hitler’s army as the lesser of two evils. These two very different lives are, with the imminent invasion of the Allies, about to intersect in unforeseen ways. I love this book – the beautiful, evocative writing, the examination and contrast of opposite sides, the almost unbearable suspense – come together to create a truly memorable experience.
City of Thieves by David Benioff. Most of the World War II fiction that we see is set in England, France or Germany (I don’t have scientific proof of this, just observation as a librarian) This novel brings focus to the home front in Russia, specifically the siege of Leningrad. A young man jailed for theft and an army officer convicted of deserting are given a choice – find a dozen eggs within the next week, or be executed. In a city where many have been reduced to cannibalism and many more have died of starvation, it is a nearly impossible choice. That these reluctant partners find kindness, friendship and even some joy, elevates this book above the usual war novel. Another excellent book set during this time is The Madonnas of Leningrad by Debra Dean, focusing on the docents and art historians of the Hermitage and their efforts to protect its priceless art.
My choice for this month is The Book Thiefby Marcus Zusak. This has long been on my “to read someday” list. Narrated by Death, it is set in Germany at the start of the war and focuses on ordinary citizens trying to survive day by day. It sounds grim, but also hopeful (which I need!) as one of the main characters finds and shares books as a way of coping. If I have time I may try to read Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein which is about a young woman that has been shot down behind enemy lines. It comes highly recommended.
What about you – what book or books are you planning to read this month? Do you have any favorites set during World War II that you would recommend? Let us know in the comments! And if you haven’t already, don’t forget to stop by the library and pick up a Reading Challenge bookmark!
After their mother dies and their father virtually abandons them, Vianne and Isabelle must learn to forge their own way. Vianne marries and starts a family in an idyllic country setting outside of Paris while Isabelle becomes rebellious, expelled from one boarding school after another. When the Germans occupy Paris in 1939, Isabelle is sent to live with her sister but the horrifying experiences of escaping with other refugees opens Isabelle’s eyes to the pain and suffering the war will bring.
The changes brought by the Germans are inexorable – the men are sent away to prison camps, food is rationed, soldiers are billeted in private homes, valuables ruthlessly taken, Jews and other “subversives” are persecuted then transferred to prison camps. Vianne, in the countryside, desperately walks a line between loyalty to her friends and neighbors while remaining unseen by the occupying soldiers. Isabelle joins the French Underground and risks her life again and again in an effort to make a difference. Their stories intertwine as they struggle to survive and protect those they love.
There are a lot – a lot – of books about World War II both fiction and non-fiction. It’s one of the most popular subject areas at the library. And while most of us learned the basic facts about the war from school and history books – dates, countries, famous battles – the stories of what it was like to actually live through the war are slowly disappearing as that generation ages and passes away. The Nightingale may be a dramatic, fictional account of living in war torn France, but the messages it sends are very real – remember for those that no longer can. What they did to survive, to change the course of events, whether big or small, mattered. We should not forget.
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