There are probably only three of you out there who haven't read Anthony Doerr's All the Light We Cannot See and Kristin Hannah’s The Nightingale (and they thank the rest of you. Profusely). These novels, and this year's Best-Of picks, The Tattooist of Auschwitz and Dear Mrs. Bird, are part of an over-saturated genre whose well of enthusiasm shows no sign of running dry. Given the competition, however, if any of these books are going to bubble-up on our radars, the authors really need to bring it.
Along with the ones mentioned above, the below most definitely do.
Mischling by Affinity Konar
Inspired by the real-life experiences of twins Eva and Miriam Mozes, Konar’s beautifully written and powerful novel imagines what it was like being forced to take part in Josef Mengele’s horrific human experiments. This man, this monster, is not the star of the story though. 12-year-old siblings Pearl and Stasha are, and it is they who convey Mischling's overarching message, something that is perhaps even more incomprehensible than man’s inhumanity to man: the capacity to forgive it.
Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave
In an interview we conducted with Chris Cleave in 2016, he explained the genesis of this novel: "I think all of us are intrigued to imagine what we as individuals would become if we were ever tested as hard as that golden generation was. Would we be the heroes or the cowards of the piece? Would we follow orders or stick to our principles, if those two things ever conflicted? Would we be the brave ones who still found the capacity for love—and for laughter—even while we were terrified?"
The Women in the Castle by Jessica Shattuck
The women referred to in the title are widows of three conspirators involved in the assassination attempt on Hitler. Marianne von Lingenfels, whose moneyed pedigree has protected her from the more unsavory punishments of the war, has been tasked with locating the other resistance widows, and ensuring their safety. Along with the naïve Benita and inscrutable Ania, they represent the everyday, ordinary Germans swept up in the extraordinary, who survived as best they could when the right thing to do wasn’t always clear (or even an option).
The Night Watch by Sarah Waters
"Why is it we can never love the people we ought to?" This question informed Sarah Waters's structurally inventive, and profoundly moving fourth novel, The Night Watch. In it the lives of four Londoners intersect on either side, and during, the Blitz. In an interview with The Telegraph, Waters described it as "fundamentally a novel about disappointment and loss and betrayal."
Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan
In this noir thriller penned by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jennifer Egan, our heroine is one of the first female divers working in a naval ship yard on Brooklyn's southern tip, while her male counterparts are off fighting in WWII. The job is a vital one, as her disabled sister is utterly dependent on her; years earlier, their father disappeared after making an ill-fated deal with a mobster, a mobster Anna eventually crosses paths with in a surprising way.
There's lots of competition in this uber-popular WWII fiction genre, but these are among the best.