Friday Five: Tales from WWII

Every Friday I’ll indulge my order-crazed brain in a list of randomness. Welcome to my Friday Fives.

The older I become, the more I want to learn about World War II. I wouldn’t call it an infatuation—that would make something so dreadful sound like a high school crush. But I am absolutely riveted by this unique time in history that simultaneously so publicly displayed humanity’s horrors and triumphs. From the awful wickedness, persecution and death tolls emerges the most beautiful tales of hope, strength and selflessness. I think this severe duality is where I find myself needing to stay, to stare it down and imagine those times as much as possible. How did we ever survive it?

I recently had a WWII-packed week after finishing a phenomenal piece of fiction set in France during the war and watching Woman in Gold, which I cannot recommend enough. They both made me think of all the WWII-set books and movies that have brought that world to life again, and—voilà!—this list was born. And since I’ve missed a few Friday Fives in the last weeks, I’m giving you a two-for-one special today.

As always, I start with the books…compiling which was almost as difficult as my Top Ten Books. I had to leave off sure stand-outs like UnbrokenLife After Life and The Monuments Men (which is SO. MUCH. BETTER. and more moving than its movie). Alas. Here are {today’s} winners:

5. Sarah’s Key, Tatiana de Rosnay

Like many of the books and movies listed here, this is fiction peppered with many of the time’s real events, like Paris’ Vel’ d’Hiv roundup, brutal work camps and more. If you’ve seen the movie, you know just how intense this story is, but if you HAVEN’T seen the movie, please read the book first. I’m a stickler for these things, but especially with this. Book > Movie. You’ll never forget it.

4. The Nightingale, Kristin Hannah

This is the book I read last week, so you’ll see it again on my Shelf Life post in a few weeks. Some stories (like #2 on this list) paint such a beautiful world amongst the madness of war that you almost forget the unrelenting fear and panic, but this is not one of those stories. You will feel every tinge of dread and anxiety as you follow two sisters during the war. It’s gritty and real and doesn’t shy away from heavy topics, but that’s what makes it just as beautiful.

3. The Diary of a Young Girl, Anne Frank

The clear non-fiction winner. (Though I’ve never read Elie Wiesel’s Night.) For many, this is their first dive into the war and the innocence lost in its wake. I’ve been long meaning to reread this since first doing so in early high school. Joe and I visited her house and Secret Annex in Amsterdam and it was one of the most powerful moments of my life. Everyone was crying silently together as we climbed past the tipped bookshelf, up the steep stairs and paced its confined quarters that still show signs of so much life—like her magazine cut-outs on the walls and the pencil markings for each child’s height. But you don’t need to visit to appreciate the world and life of Anne Frank. This book says it all.


2. All the Light We Cannot See, Anthony Doerr

Hands down, one of the best books I’ve read this year. Here’s what I wrote in its Shelf Life post:

As much as I dislike reading books set in the Civil War, I love reading about World War II twice as much. This book–the 2015 Pulitzer Prize winner for Fiction–is absolutely a work of art. Doerr’s ten-year endeavor is worth the wait in every vibrant metaphor. I actually had a hard time making any head way on this book in the beginning because I found the writing so comforting and, ironically, his war-torn world so warm and inviting. It would literally lull me to sleep. But as its ending looms and his characters–a curious French blind girl and a brave white-haired boy reluctantly born from the Nazi Youth–careen towards an inevitable junction, you cannot put it down, you don’t want to blink. It is an incredible tour de force and the closest thing to The Book Thief that I’ve ever read. Do not miss this stunning story with its timeless moral: “Open your eyes and see what you can with them before they close forever.”

1. The Book Thief, Markus Zusak

The only book that also resides on my Top Ten List. This is a true masterpiece in every sense of the word. Its beginnings hint at the war—its foreboding evil churning under the surface of sweet Liesel’s story, until it can’t stay hidden any longer and suddenly her world is absorbed by it. To me, that’s probably how the war was for so many. An inconvenience, simple struggles here and there, until it was all consuming. If you are human, this book will make you cry and ache and feel the power of hope. The movie’s not bad either, but, again….please read it first!

And here are my movie choices, where I prefer “based on a true story”…

5. The Sound of Music

No, the war isn’t at the forefront of the entire movie, but it definitely is a motivating factor as it propels to its end. I know I didn’t understand this part of it when I watched as a child, but it was a defining time for the Von Trapp family, both on and off the screen. Joe and I played the musical for a high school while living in Dallas and I remember when they draped huge Nazi flags all over the balcony for the final act and my skin crawled as we played German hymns and marches. I, like the Von Trapps, just wanted to get out of there as quickly as possible.

4. Valkyrie

I’m going to go ahead and claim this is probably a placeholder for Saving Private Ryan, which I’m ashamed to say I’ve never seen. Don’t worry – requesting it from the library now. But, I did absolutely love Valkyrie and learning about the real assassination attempt against Hitler. It was fascinating and I thought Tom Cruise nailed it.

3. Woman in Gold

Helen Mirren, I love you.  This is such a stand-out movie, I can’t believe it didn’t get more hype when it was in the theaters. I’ve heard nothing but praise since it came out on disc. And, another true story. Just incredible, and with lots of musical connections. I could watch this again and again, and most likely will.

2. Life is Beautiful

Easily one of my very favorite movies, this is so often tied to the memory of Roberto Benigni’s silly, over-the-top Oscar win, but my god is this movie amazing. Your heart will soar and the subtitles will grow more and more blurry as you’re overcome with endless tears of sorrow and joy. It’s the best thing ever.

1. Schindler’s List

How can this not be number one? I can think of no one I would trust more with this story than Steven Spielberg, Liam Neeson, Ben Kingsley, Ralph Fiennes and, of course, John Williams. “Whoever saves one life, saves the world entire.” That’s all I can say.

Okay, please pass me all the tissues.


3 thoughts on “Friday Five: Tales from WWII

  1. I just finished The Nightingale and read Woman in Gold. Read the book as I understand it is better than the movie. And
    Mr. CHURCHILL’DOWNS SECRETARY AND THAT SERIES is really good. Read book thief last year.

  2. Thanks for the suggestions, Bev! I thought it was so funny that you, me and my mom were all reading the same book at the same time without planning it! Great minds! 🙂 Miss you! xo

  3. Pingback: Shelf Life: Fall 2015 | hashtag marci

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