World War II was a time of intense conflict in North America, Asia, and Europe. Even now, nearly 75 years later, it lives on in our collective consciousness—partly because of the many eye-opening and heart-wrenching novels that have been written about it.
Even though these books are works of fiction, they reflect the lives, emotions, and ultimately, the humanity of the people who lived through that turbulent era.
The Best World War 2 Historical Fiction Books
Below is a list of some of the best historical fiction novels that have been written about World War II.
1. All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
Anthony Doerr’s Pulitzer Prize–winning novel All the Light We Cannot See is a surprising and poignant story of two different yet connected characters: one, a blind French girl who flees Paris to escape the Nazi occupation; the other a German boy whose skills land him a job with the Reich.
Marie-Laure flees with her father to Saint Malo, where her reclusive great uncle resides. They carry a valuable treasure from the Museum of Natural History, where Marie-Laure’s father worked before the Nazis arrived in Paris.
Werner, an orphan with a gift for building and fixing radios, gets recruited by the Nazis to track down members of the resistance.
The ways their paths collide demonstrate the ways that, even in a world filled with evil, people try to be good to each other.
2. The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
The Nightingale is a powerful novel that captures an intimate part of World War II that’s not often mentioned: the women’s war. It tells the stories of two sisters—in very different situations. Both are fighting to survive in German-occupied France; one to save her family, the other to save strangers.
This book celebrates the resilience of the human spirit and the steadfastness of women.
3. The Tatooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris
Based on the true story of Auschwitz tatooist Ludwig (Lale) Sokolov, The Tatooist of Auschwitz is a love story that takes place amidst the worst atrocities of World War II, in the Auschwitz concentration camp.
Lale Sokolov is sent to the concentration camp and tasked with inking the prisoners’ numbers on their arms. He witnesses both unspeakable horrors and acts of compassion, and even trades murdered Jews’ valuables for food to feed his fellow prisoners.
When Sokolov meets Gita, he falls in love and promises to survive and marry her—a testament to love and hope in the midst of darkness.
4. Beneath a Scarlet Sky by Mark Sullivan
Pino Lella is a typical Italian teenager, but when his family home is destroyed by Allied bombs, he joins an underground railroad to help Jews escape over the Alps. In the process, he falls for Anna, a beautiful widow six years his senior.
Pino’s parents try to keep him out of combat by forcing him to enlist as a German soldier. But after Pino is injured, he is recruited to be the personal driver for a mysterious and powerful Nazi commander.
Pino vows to fight the Nazis from the inside, dreaming of Anna and the life he hopes to share with her one day.
5. The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje
The English Patient is a Golden Man Booker Prize–winning novel about the intersection of four lives in an abandoned Italian villa at the end of World War II.
Hana is a nurse tending to her last surviving patient. Caravaggio, the thief with maimed hands, tries to reimagine who he is. Kip searches for hidden bombs in a dangerous land. And the mysterious English patient ties them together—though he is nameless and burned beyond recognition.
Beautiful and intelligent, this classic book is a must-read for fans of the genre.
6. We Were the Lucky Ones by Georgia Hunter
The Kurc family lives in Poland under the shadow of war. But when the occupation arrives, they are separated—and each must do their best to survive with the hope that they may one day be reunited.
One sibling is forced into exile, another attempts to leave Europe entirely, and others struggle simply to survive by working grueling hours in factories or by hiding in plain sight disguised as gentiles.
Driven by the immense power of the human spirit, We Were the Lucky Ones is a heart-wrenching tale of the power of family.
7. Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
Not your traditional World War II story, Slaughterhouse-Five tells the story of Billy Pilgrim. Billy is a POW during the firebombing of Dresden, but then is abducted by aliens and experiences time travel.
Vonnegut’s own experiences as a POW inform this darkly humorous novel that paints a picture of the lasting horrors of war.
8. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
Set in Italy, Catch-22 is the story of bombardier Yossarian, who is furious because thousands of people he has never met are trying to kill him.
His real problem, however, is his own army: They keep increasing the number of missions required for the men to complete their service. But if he requests to be excused from duty, he runs into a violation of Catch-22, a hilariously sinister bureaucratic rule that states that you are insane if you willingly continue to fly dangerous missions, but asking to be removed proves your sanity—and therefore makes you ineligible to be discharged.
Heller’s triumphant story is a classic work of American literature, and a fascinating read.
Learn about WWII through Novels
WWII novels (and historical fiction in general) can be a great way to not only get lost in a great book, but learn something along the way.
Only by remembering can we avoid repeating the mistakes of our past—and what better way to remember than by reading a book that will connect you with the people who lived through it?
What’s your favorite World War II novel? Share it in the comments below!
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- 20 Freelance Historical Fiction Editors With Experience
- List of Historical Fiction Publishers
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- How Art Can Inspire Historical Fiction: Using Reality to Guide Your Writing
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