What better way to start off the season than with a new crop of historical fiction books? These novels, featuring some of the best WW2 books of 2017, are set across Europe and America, and filled with plots of romance, family, friendship, and intrigue. Publishers’ descriptions included below.
The Boat Runner by Devin Murphy
Beginning in the summer of 1939, 14-year-old Jacob Koopman and his older brother, Edwin, enjoy lives of prosperity and quiet contentment. Many of the residents in their small Dutch town have some connection to the Koopman lightbulb factory, and the locals hold the family in high esteem.
On days when they aren’t playing with friends, Jacob and Edwin help their Uncle Martin on his fishing boat in the North Sea, where German ships have become a common sight. But conflict still seems unthinkable, even as the boys’ father naively sends his sons to a Hitler Youth Camp in an effort to secure German business for the factory.
When war breaks out, Jacob’s world is thrown into chaos. The Boat Runner follows Jacob over the course of four years, through the forests of France, the stormy beaches of England, and deep within the secret missions of the German Navy, where he is confronted with the moral dilemma that will change his life–and his life’s mission–forever.
Epic in scope and featuring a thrilling narrative with precise, elegant language, The Boat Runner tells the little-known story of the young Dutch boys who were thrown into the Nazi campaign, as well as the brave boatmen who risked everything to give Jewish refugees safe passage to land abroad. Through one boy’s harrowing tale of personal redemption, here is a novel about the power of people’s stories and voices to shine light through our darkest days, until only love prevails.
Release date: Out now
We Were Strangers Once by Betsy Carter
On the eve of World War II Egon Schneider — a gallant and successful Jewish doctor, son of two world-famous naturalists — escapes Germany to an uncertain future across the sea. Settling into the unfamiliar rhythms of upper Manhattan, he finds solace among a tight-knit group of fellow immigrants, tenacious men and women drawn together as much by their differences as by their memories of the world they left behind.
They each suffer degradations and triumphs large and small: Egon’s terminally acerbic lifelong friend, bestselling author Meyer Leavitt, now wears a sandwich board on a New York street corner; Catrina Harty, the headstrong daughter of a dirt-poor Irish trolley driver, survives heartbreak and loss to forge an unlikely alliance; and Egon himself is forced to abandon his thriving medical practice to become the “Cheese Man” at a Washington Heights grocery. But their spirits remain unbroken, and when their little community is faced with an existential threat, these strangers rise up together in hopes of creating a permanent home. With her uncanny ability to create indelible characters in unforgettable circumstances, bestselling author Betsy Carter has crafted a gorgeous novel that will resonate with anyone who has ever felt adrift and longed for home.
Release date: Out now
Secret Shores by Ella Carey
In 1946, artist Rebecca Swift’s dreams of love and a life free from convention are crashing like the waves of the Australian coast below her. And it’s into those roiling waters that she disappears.
Forty-one years later, Tess Miller’s dreams are crashing, too. The once-successful New York editor has lost her most prestigious author to the handsome new golden boy of publishing. Meanwhile, she’s stuck with Edward Russell, a washed-up Australian poet writing a novel about some obscure artist named Rebecca Swift. But Tess may have underestimated Russell. His book is not only true — it’s a searing, tragic romance and a tantalizing mystery set in a circle of postwar modernists. When Tess uncovers a long-hidden secret, she’s drawn even deeper into Rebecca’s enigmatic life and death.
As Rebecca’s past intertwines with the present, Tess finds herself falling for the last man she thought she’d ever be drawn to. On the way, she discovers the power of living an authentic life — and that transcendent love never really dies.
Release date: Out now
The Way to London by Alix Rickloff
From the author of Secrets of Nanreath Hall comes this gripping, beautifully written historical fiction novel set during World War II — the unforgettable story of a young woman who must leave Singapore and forge a new life in England.
On the eve of Pearl Harbor, impetuous and overindulged, Lucy Stanhope, the granddaughter of an earl, is living a life of pampered luxury in Singapore until one reckless act will change her life forever.
Exiled to England to stay with an aunt she barely remembers, Lucy never dreamed that she would be one of the last people to escape Singapore before war engulfs the entire island, and that her parents would disappear in the devastating aftermath. Now grief stricken and all alone, she must cope with the realities of a grim, battle-weary England.
Then she meets Bill, a young evacuee sent to the country to escape the Blitz, and in a moment of weakness, Lucy agrees to help him find his mother in London. The unlikely runaways take off on a seemingly simple journey across the country, but her world becomes even more complicated when she is reunited with an invalided soldier she knew in Singapore.
Now Lucy will be forced to finally confront the choices she has made if she ever hopes to have the future she yearns for.
Release date: Out now
The Trick by Emanuel Bergmann
A deeply moving, humorous story of a boy who believes in everything and an old man who believes in nothing.
In 1934, a rabbi’s son in Prague joins a traveling circus, becomes a magician, and rises to fame under the stage name the Great Zabbatini just as Europe descends into World War II. When Zabbatini is discovered to be a Jew, his battered trunk full of magic tricks becomes his only hope of surviving the concentration camp where he is sent.
Seven decades later in Los Angeles, 10-year-old Max finds a scratched-up LP that captured Zabbatini performing his greatest tricks. But the track in which Zabbatini performs his love spell — the spell Max believes will keep his disintegrating family together — is damaged beyond repair. Desperate for a solution, Max seeks out the now elderly, cynical magician and begs him to perform his magic on his parents. As the two develop an unlikely friendship, Moshe discovers that Max and his family have a surprising connection to the dark, dark days the Great Zabbatini experienced during the war.
Recalling the melancholy humor of Isaac Bashevis Singer and the heartbreaking pathos of the film Life is Beautiful — this outstanding first novel is at once an irreverent yet deeply moving story about a young boy who believes in magic and a disillusioned old man who believes in nothing, as well as a gripping and heartfelt tale about the circle of life.
Release date: Out now
The Safe House by Christophe Boltanski
In Paris’s exclusive Saint-Germain neighborhood is a mansion. In that mansion lives a family. Deep in that mansion. The Bolts are that family, and they have secrets. The Safe House tells their story.
When the Nazis came, Étienne Boltanski divorced his wife and walked out the front door, never to be seen again during the war. So far as the outside world knew, the Jewish doctor had fled. The truth was that he had sneaked back to hide in a secret crawl space at the heart of the house. There he lived for the duration of the war. With the Liberation, Étienne finally emerged, but he and his family were changed forever—anxious, reclusive, yet proudly eccentric. Their lives were spent, amid Bohemian disarray and lingering wartime fears, in the mansion’s recesses or packed comically into the protective cocoon of a Fiat.
That house (and its vehicular appendage) are at the heart of Christophe Boltanski’s ingeniously structured, lightly fictionalized account of his grandparents and their extended family. The novel unfolds room by room—each chapter opening with a floorplan — introducing us to the characters who occupy each room, including the narrator’s grandmother — a woman of “savage appetites”–and his uncle Christian, whose haunted artworks would one day make him famous. “The house was a palace,” Boltanski writes, “and they lived like hobos.” Rejecting convention as they’d rejected the outside world, the family never celebrated birthdays, or even marked the passage of time, living instead in permanent stasis, ever more closely bonded to the house itself.
The Safe House was a literary sensation when published in France in 2015 and won the Prix de Prix, France’s most prestigious book prize. With hints of Oulipian playfulness and an atmosphere of dark humor, The Safe House is an unforgettable portrait of a self-imprisoned family.
Release date: October 23
The Silver Music Box by Mina Baites
A captivating cross-generational novel from German author Mina Baites about a Jewish family divided by World War II and an inheritance with the power to bring them back together.
1914. For Paul, with love. Jewish silversmith Johann Blumenthal engraved those words on his most exquisite creation, a singing filigree bird inside a tiny ornamented box. He crafted this treasure for his young son before leaving to fight in a terrible war to honor his beloved country — a country that would soon turn against his own family.
A half century later, Londoner Lilian Morrison inherits the box after the death of her parents. Though the silver is tarnished and dented, this much-loved treasure is also a link to an astonishing past. With the keepsake is a letter from Lilian’s mother, telling her daughter for the first time that she was adopted. Too young to remember, Lilian was rescued from a Germany in the grips of the Holocaust. Now only she can trace what happened to a family who scattered to the reaches of the world, a family forced to choose between their heritage and their dreams for the future.
Release date: December 1
Which of these books are you most excited to read? Tell us in the comments!