The best novels set in World War Two

We’ve compiled a selection of some of the best novels and fictional books about the Second World War, inspired by the tumultuous years of conflict in Europe and beyond.

06/03/2020

 World War Two was one of the most devastating modern conflicts in living memory in modern history, and the tragedies and triumphs of the war years have been inspiring novelists ever since. Readers seem to be equally fascinated by this period of history, whether it be the political machinations behind the rise of the Nazis, or the lives of women on the home front.  So for fans of historical fiction, we’ve compiled a selection of some of the best novels about World War Two, set in Europe and beyond.

If you're looking for more inspration for your next read, discover our edit of the best historical fiction novels of all time, here.

 

The Yellow Bird Sings

by Jennifer Rosner

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In Poland, 1941, Róza and her five-year-old daughter, Shira, spend their days and nights hiding in a farmer's barn after escaping being rounded up with the other Jews in their town. Róza tells her daughter stories of a yellow bird, the only one who can sing the melodies Shira composes in her head. Róza would do anything to keep her daughter safe, but eventualy she is faced with an impossible choice – keep her close, or let her go and give her a chance to survive. 

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The Fifth Column

by Andrew Gross

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 On his release from prison following a deadly confrontation with a Nazi sympathiser, all Charles Mossman wants to do is make amends with his wife and daughter. But, as support for America to enter the war of the side of the Allied Forces grows, the Nazi sympathisers are driven underground and Charles realises there are sinister forces surrounding them that will bring about the downfall of his nation by any means. 

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Jackdaws

by Ken Follett

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 Set in France during the war, Jackdaws is a story of the French Resistance and a daring plan to help the Allied Forces. When a mission to destroy a telephone exchange vital to Nazi communications fails, British secret agent Flick Clairet takes an all-female team to infiltrate the exchange and finish the job. This is a gripping novel of love, courage and revenge. 

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The Order of the Day

by Eric Vuillard

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This unforgettable novel tells the story of the pivotal meetings that took place between European powers prior to World War Two. A moving and tragic account of failed diplomacy, broken relationships and how the actions of a few powerful men brought the world to the brink of war. 

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Dear Mrs Bird

by AJ Pearce

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As bombs fall over London, all Emmy wants is to support the war effort by becoming a Lady War Correspondent, but she inadvertently finds herself working as a typist for the formidable Mrs Bird, agony aunt at Women’s Friend magazine. Mrs Bird is very particular about the letters she responds to, but Emmy can’t bear to think of all those desperate women waiting for answers that will never come, and starts to secretly respond on Mrs Bird’s behalf . . . This heartwarming debut novel is a Sunday Times bestseller and a Richard and Judy Book Club pick. 

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The Morning Gift

by Eva Ibbotson

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This classic WW2 romance is a story of unexpected love, independence and belonging from award-winning author Iva Ibottson. Eighteen-year-old Ruth loves her life in Vienna until the Nazis invade and her family is forced to flee. A terrible misunderstanding means she is left behind, and her only hope of escape is the marriage of convenience offered by Quinn, a young English professor who offers to bring her back to London.  

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To Die in Spring

by Ralf Rothmann

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In 1945 it seems that the worst of the war is over, and Walter and Friedrich work together on a dairy farm in northern Germany. But then they are forced to ‘volunteer’ with the SS, and Friedrich is sent to the front where the senseless violence he experiences leads him to desert. When he is captured and sentenced to death, the friends are reunited in terrible circumstances. 

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The English Patient

by Michael Ondaatje

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As the Second World War draws to a close, four disparate characters shelter in a house in an abandoned Italian village. Hana, a nurse, grieves for her father as she tends her last remaining patient, an anonymous Englishman burned beyond all recognition. Caravaggio, a spy and former thief, slowly extracts the story of the Englishman’s past from him, while a touching relationship develops between Hana and Kip, a Sikh bomb disposal expert. This is a heartbreaking love story and a beautiful novel about the traumas of war. 

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The Narrow Road to the Deep North

by Richard Flanagan

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 Winner of the Man Booker Prize 2014, The Narrow Road to the Deep North is the story of Dorrigo Evans, a surgeon living through the horrors of a Japanese POW camp on the Burma Death Railway. As he struggles to save the men under his command from starvation, beatings and cholera, he is haunted by an affair with his uncle’s wife years before. 

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