Happy Thursday, Savvy Readers! Chances are by now you’ve spotted people wearing the poppy in the run-up to Remembrance Day and the commercials by Veterans Affairs that remind us why we observe Remembrance Day in Canada. For me, this time of year always sparks my interest in history and the stories of those who have experienced the horrors of war firsthand. Whether you share my interest in history or are simply drawn to stories whose events are set during times of war, I’ve rounded up a list of books that are sure to remind us how fortunate we are and the importance of remembering our past.
The Poppy Wife by Caroline Scott
Inspired by the experiences of her grandfather who served in the British army, The Poppy Wife by Caroline Scott, is an unforgettable debut novel and a sweeping tale of forbidden love, profound loss, and the startling truth of the broken families left behind in the wake of World War I. 1921. Survivors of the Great War are desperately trying to piece together the fragments of their broken lives. While many have been reunited with their loved ones, Edie’s husband Francis has not come home. Francis is presumed to have been killed in action, but Edie believes he might still be alive. Harry, Francis’ brother, was there the day Francis was wounded. He was certain it was a fatal wound—that he saw his brother die—but as time passes, Harry begins questioning his memory of what happened. Could Francis, like many soldiers, merely be lost and confused somewhere? Returning to the Western Front, Harry travels through battle-scarred France and Belgium gathering news for British wives and mothers, as he searches for evidence of Francis. But when Edie receives a mysterious photograph of Francis, she is more convinced than ever that he might still be alive. And so, she embarks on a journey in the hope of finding some trace of her husband. Is he truly gone? And if he isn’t, then why hasn’t he come home?
Seven Days in Hell by David O’Keefe
Centred around one of Canada’s most storied regiments, Seven Days in Hell tells the epic story of the men from the Black Watch during the bloody battle for Verrières Ridge, a dramatic saga that unfolded just weeks after one of Canada’s greatest military triumphs of the Second World War. In this book, O’Keefe takes readers on a heart-pounding journey at the sharp end of combat during the infamous Normandy campaign. Drawing on formerly classified documents and rare first-person testimony of the men who fought on the front lines, Seven Days in Hell follows the footsteps of the ghosts of Normandy, giving a voice yet again to the men who sacrificed everything in the summer of 1944.
Somewhere in France by Jennifer Robson
Lady Elizabeth Neville-Ashford wants to travel the world, pursue a career, and marry for love. But in 1914, the restrictions of British society and her mother’s expectations forbid Lilly from following her heart. Defying her parents, Lilly moves to London and becomes an ambulance driver in the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps—a treacherous job that takes her to the Western Front. Assigned to a field hospital, Lilly is reunited with Robert Fraser, her brother’s best friend. She doesn’t care that the handsome Scottish surgeon grew up in poverty—she yearns for their friendship to become something more. Lilly is the most beautiful—and forbidden—woman Robbie has ever known. Fearful for his life, he’s determined to keep her safe, even if it means breaking her heart.
Dam Busters by Ted Barris
It was a night that changed the Second World War. The secret air raid against the hydroelectric dams of Germany’s Ruhr River took years to plan, involved an untried bomb and included the best aircrewmen RAF Bomber Command could muster—many of them Canadian. The attack marked the first time the Allies tactically took the war inside Nazi Germany. It was a military operation that became legendary. Hand-picked and specially trained, nineteen Lancaster bombers carrying 133 airmen flew at treetop level to the industrial heartland of the Third Reich and their targets—the Ruhr River dams, whose massive reservoirs powered Nazi Germany’s military-industrial complex. Every airman understood that the odds of survival were low. Operation Chastise cost the lives of fifty-three airmen, including fourteen Canadians. Based on interviews, personal accounts, flight logs, maps and photographs of the Canadians involved, Dam Busters recounts the dramatic story of these Commonwealth bomber crews tasked with a high-risk mission against an enemy prepared to defend the Fatherland to death.
Rush to Danger by Ted Barris
Noted military historian Ted Barris once asked his father, “What did you do in the war?” What the former US Army medic then told his son forms the thrust of Barris’ latest historic journey—an exploration of his father’s wartime experiences as a medic leading up to the Battle of the Bulge in 1944-45, along with stories of other medics in combat throughout history. Barris’s research reveals that this bloodiest of WWII battles was shouldered largely by military medics. In this unique front-line recounting the experienced of stretcher bearers, medical corpsmen, nurses, surgeons, orderlies, dentists and ambulance drivers, Barris explores the evolution of battlefield medicine at historic engagements and reveals like never before—why men and women sporting the red cross on their helmets or sleeves didn’t flee to safety but chose instead to rush to assist.
The German Midwife by Mandy Robotham
Germany, 1944. A prisoner in the camps, Anke Hoff is doing what she can to keep her pregnant campmates and their newborns alive. But when Anke’s work is noticed, she is chosen for a task more dangerous than she could ever have imagined. Eva Braun is pregnant with the Fuhrer’s child, and Anke is assigned as her midwife. Before long, Anke is faced with an impossible choice. Does she serve the Reich she loathes and keep the baby alive? Or does she sacrifice an innocent child for the good of a broken world? A fictional tale of courage, betrayal and survival in the hardest of circumstances, Anke’s story might be fiction, but the circumstances she endures and the horrors of the camps depicted by Robotham are all too real.
The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris
Based on interviews conducted with Holocaust survivor and Auschwitz-Birkenau tattooist Ludwig (Lale) Sokolov comes an unforgettable love story in the midst of atrocity. In 1942, Lale, a Slovakian Jew, is forcibly transported to the concentration camps at Auschwitz-Birkenau. When his captors discover that he speaks several languages, he is put to work as a tattooist, tasked with permanently marking his fellow prisoners. Imprisoned for over two years, Lale witnesses horrific atrocities and barbarism—but also incredible acts of bravery and compassion. A vivid, harrowing, and ultimately hopeful re-creation of Lale Sokolov’s experiences as the man who tattooed the arms of thousands of prisoners with what would become one of the most potent symbols of the Holocaust, The Tattooist of Auschwitz is a testament to the endurance of love and humanity under the darkest possible conditions.
Fiction or not, each of these books is a stark reminder of the horrors of war and the importance of Remembrance Day. So tell me Savvy readers, which of these titles most interests you? Tell me in the comments or tweets us @SavvyReader. And don’t forget to don your poppy this Remembrance Day!
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