This particular genre is one where many of the fictionalised accounts are based on real life experiences.
Letters from Iwo Jima by Kumiko Kakehashi
Many of us interested in photography of war history may be familiar with Joe Rosenthal's 1945 Pulitzer Prize winning photo Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima. If you are, maybe you would like to read about the events preceding this historic moment.
This book is the story of the Battle of Iwo Jima told largely from the Japanese point of view. Much of the story is told through letters written home by Japanese soldiers defending the small Pacific Island towards the end of World War II. This island was strategically important to both the Japanese and the US. The main character, General Tadamichi Kuriyabashi was a great commander whose strategy was both brilliant in one way and deadly to his men in another. In civilian life the General had visited the US and would not have been their enemy had the war not occurred. He also understood that the men he commanded had little chance of successfully defending Iwo Jima in the long term. Out of about 23,000 Japanese soldiers only 216 were taken prisoner. This book jumps between the letters and real events. This book was made also made into a movie.
Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
This book won a Pulitzer Prize in 1937. This historically accurate and vivid book is set in Georgia before, during and after the American Civil War. Gone with the Wind tells the story of Scarlett O'Hara, the privileged daughter of a plantation owner. Scarlett is a strong, determined woman prepared to survive the war and to protect her family and their plantation Tara. Scarlett is infatuated by her married neighbour Ashley Wilkes then she meets Rhett Bulter a rich, charming man who challenges Scarlett in many ways. The dialogue between Scarlett and Rhett is well written. Sadly Scarlett does not realise that she and Rhett are the perfect match until it is too late. This book explores issues that dominated society at the time - culture, class, slavery, racism in language that would be deemed politically incorrect today. This book however remains one of the great classics of all times. And who can forget the ending scene of the movie?
All Quiet on the Western Front by Enrich Maria Remarque
This is a book that I hadn't read previously. I don't know why it took me so long to get to it. This book is a well written book about the permanent damage done to those who fight in wars. This book was banned by the Nazis. All Quiet on the Western Front gives a realistic account of the horrors of trench warfare during World War 1 from the perspective of a German infantryman Paul Baumer, an idealistic teacher. All the aspects of trench warfare are there - excitement, terror, boredom, pain, fear, hunger, dirt, disease, loss, alienation, the awareness that you could die at any minute and the futility of it all. Sutherland Library also have the audiobook and movie versions.
Catch 22 by Joseph Heller
In the 1970s reading Catch 22 was as essential as attending a Bob Dylan concert. Set during World War 11 this book is infuriating. The plot is crazy, the characters are crazy but then war is crazy. This satirical novel is written in the third person and is annoyingly non chronological. It descibes events from the different points of view of different characters. Every argument is carried on to an extreme absurd conclusion and the ongoing banter between characters is full of paradoxes as impossible as Catch 22 itself. Tiring. Still one of a kind today and the source of the phrase 'it is a catch 22'. If it gets too much let someone else do the reading and borrow the audiobook or movie.
The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flannigan
This book recently won the Man Booker Prize. The author was the only Australian on the shortlist. It is the story of Dorrigo Evans a surgeon in the prisoner of war camp on the Thai-Burma railway during World War 11. Dorrigo struggles to save his men from starvation, disease and beatings then he receives a letter that changes his life forever. Dorrigo Evans is not always likable because of aspects of his personal life before and after the war but the strength in the story lies in Dorrigo's heroic efforts to make a difference to the men in the camps.
Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien
This book is not about the Vietnam War as such but a book of short interrelated and interwoven stories about people caught in the war. Each short story is about the objects that the characters are carrying. The 'things' are seemingly ordinary but as the stories develop they take on meaning. The author was a soldier in the Vietnam War and wrote this book 20 years later. Interesting in many ways because his perspective on this time in his life must have changed from when he was a young soldier to a man all those years later. Multiple prize winning book and often cited as one of the best in this genre.
The Quiet American by Graham Greene
The Quiet American is about Thomas Fowler an ageing, cynical English journalist living in Vietnam during the war. He lives with a young, beautiful Vietnamese woman named Phuong. His life changes with the arrival of Alden Pyle a young, idealistic CIA agent. Pyle meets Fowler, falls in love with Phuong and wins her from the journalist. Fowler is left to deal with this loss. The book focuses strongly on the relationship between Fowler and Pyle as well as Fowler's psychological journey as an ageing man with little to believe in. There is also a lot of commentary about the Vietnam War and war and life at that time generally. The authors psychological portrayal of Fowler is one of the best features of the book along with his description of the Vietnamese countryside and the life of a journalist in war times.Some may find Greene's view of Americans is pretty obvious. Sutherland Library also has the movie.
The Eagle had Landed by Jack Higgins
Considered one of Jack Higgin's best books. On 6 November 1943, Berlin gets the coded message 'The Eagle had landed'. The adventure begins. German commandos are sent to England In 1943 to kidnap or kill Winston Churchill. A cultured, intelligent IRA agent Liam Devlin goes ahead to prepare for the mission. Add in a beautiful widow and a twist at the end. Things of course don't go to plan. If you don't over think the plot and want a more fictional war read this could be just the book for you. Sutherland Library also has the audiobook and DVD.
The Bridge over the River Kwai by Pierre Boulle
This French author wrote Planet of the Apes, a book in a vey different genre to Bridge over the River Kwai. Both books were made into very successful films. Bridge over the River Kwai is the story of the British POWs who were forced to build the Burma Railway. It is a story based on Boulle's own experiences as a POW during World War II. Boulle's depiction of the Japanese as culturally inferior barbarians is somewhat understandable given the personal and historical context in which he was writing. The 2 central characters are Colonel Nicholson - the even tempered British leader and Colonel Saito - the Japanese leader given to violence and fits of rage. The books follows the human cost of the building of the railway but focuses strongly on the war of wills and ideologies between the 2 leaders. One man would rather die that ignor the international rules of war and the other would rather die that lose face. A classic war read.
Sophie's Choice by William Styron
Confessional monologues serving as narrative, flashbacks from a New York boarding house, a tumultuous love triangle, secrets, lies, sex and swear words. This story, set in post-war New York has all these elements and more. The narrator is a young Southerner named Stingo. While staying at a New York boarding house Stingo meets Nathan, a young Jewish man with many issues and Sophie, a Polish woman who survived Auschwitz. Stingo becomes increasingly drawn into Nathan's and Stingo's passionate and destructive relationship. And Sophie's choice? Is it the most obvious and memorable choice? What do you think? The library also have an audiobook version.