The first few decades of the twentieth century will always be a period of fascination for us all, particularly the periods during and surrounding World Wars I & II. There are plenty of solid, well-researched books on the history and politics and even military tactics of these wars, but what hits many readers hardest is the human interest stories. Stories, whether wholly fiction or based on actual people or events, help us get a more thorough understanding of these important times. If you’re looking for a great 1920s/1930s novel, read on for some excellent new releases.
The Poppy Wife: A Novel of the Great War
By Caroline Scott
William Morrow Paperbacks, $16.99, 448 pages
It is 1921, World War I is over, and the many people affected by the Great War are trying to figure out a new normal. Edie awaits the return of her husband, Francis; still missing, the powers that be believe him to have been killed in the war, but Edie knows in her heart that he still lives. Francis’s brother Harry also hopes that Francis lives. His job takes him across the French countryside, photographing the graves of soldiers to bring closure to their families, but he also seeks news of his own brother. When Edie travels to France herself, she and Harry search for the truth about Francis together.
A Single Thread
By Tracy Chevalier
Viking, $27.00, 336 pages
World War I resulted in the deaths of so many young men that nearly an entire generation of women struggled with the feeling of being “surplus”: extra, unwanted. Violet Speedwell is one such woman, struggling with grief after the loss of both her fiance and her brother, and now feeling trapped into caring for her aging mother with no hopes for her own future. Eventually, though, Violet saves enough money to move out on her own, and she sets off for Winchester, where she’s drawn into a community. But when another great war threatens her peace, what will her future hold?
The Last Train to London: A Novel
By Meg Waite Clayton
HarperCollins, $27.99, 464 pages
In the years leading up to World War II, most people in Austria don’t really think much of the Nazis. They’re loud and cruel, but far away from the lives of everyday citizens of Vienna. And then the Nazis invade, and suddenly life is vastly different for Jewish teen Stephen Neuman and his friend Žofie-Helene, whose mother edits a progressive newspaper. Dutch resistance member Truus Wijsmuller is working as hard and fast as she can to get Jewish children out of Austria, sometimes accepting help from questionable sources. As other countries rapidly close their borders to refugees, will Stephen and Žofie-Helene be able to escape?
The Long Flight Home
By Alan Hlad
A John Scognamiglio Book, $26.99, 304 pages
In 1940, the war rages hard, and Germany bombs Britain relentlessly. Susan Shepherd, who lives in the woods with her grandfather, finds herself drawn into the Allied defense, as her extraordinary skill with homing pigeons is put to great use. Meanwhile, an American crop duster named Ollie Evans travels to Britain to join the Royal Air Force, and eventually ends up working on the same secret project as Susan. Countless homing pigeons are dropped in occupied France; few return, but those that do bring back important information on enemy troop movements. Their work together draws Susan and Ollie close, but when his plane crashes behind enemy lines, what hopes are there for their future?
By E.R. Ramzipoor
Park Row Books, $27.99, 544 pages
In the midst of World War II, the Nazis keep an iron grip on the media, and the most popular newspaper in Belgium was quickly turned into a propaganda machine during the German occupation. But the resistance lives, and in the media underground, rogue journalists create and pass around secret newspapers that contradict the Nazi party line. When the Nazis hunt down one such group of journalists, the protagonists of this book, they are tasked with either turning their underground papers into more propaganda, or facing death. The choice, ultimately, is an easy one, and the journalists set out to publish a fake issue of their paper that mocks everything the Nazis stand for.
The Other Windsor Girl: A Novel of Princess Margaret, Royal Rebel
By Georgie Blalock
William Morrow Paperbacks, $16.99, 400 pages
The world has long been fascinated by the British royal family, and in the years following World War II, the public’s attention was captivated by the vivacious Princess Margaret, younger sister of Queen Elizabeth. Margaret was a socialite if ever there was one, with a sharp tongue, a taste for alcohol and cigarettes, and a group of hanger-ons happy to live the outrageous life with her. When The Honorable Vera Strathmore meets the princess by chance, it changes her life, and Vera quickly rises through the ranks of Margaret’s entourage to second lady-in-waiting. But can Vera’s own dreams be satisfied in this role?
A good novel can really bring this time period to life, as is evidenced by any of these selections. Whether your interest is World War I or II, the soldiers who fought in the battles, the everyday people whose lives were irrevocably altered by these trying times, or even the more affluent who were able to seemingly bounce back more quickly than the average citizen, there are stories out there to interest everyone.