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Friday, March 20, 2015

WWII Still Fascinates

Written by Jon Williams

Although it ended nearly seventy years ago, World War II remains a major factor in the events of today, and stories surrounding the worldwide conflict continue to connect with audiences, whether they are grounded in truth or fiction. One of the most incredible true stories to come out of the war is that of Louis Zamperini, an Olympic distance runner for the United States who then joined the Army Air Corps in 1941. When his plane went down in the ocean during a 1943 rescue mission, his tale of survival would become one for the ages. That story is told by Laura Hillenbrand in the bestselling book Unbroken, which was then made into a movie directed by Angelina Jolie. And the rest of Zamperini’s life makes for a pretty good story in its own right, available in Don’t Give Up, Don’t Give In by Zamperini and David Rensin.

Another tale of World War II is getting quite a bit of attention right now, this one on the fictional side. Anthony Doerr’s novel All the Light We Cannot See came out on May 6 of last year and has been on the New York Times best sellers list nearly ever since, topping it several times and sitting even now at #2. A beautiful story of a young blind French girl and a German army radio expert, whose disparate paths somehow converge in the war’s closing days, it’s easy to understand how it has become and remained so popular.

Of course, there are any number of World War II stories for your interested patrons. On the literary side, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention my own favourites, The Winds of War and War and Remembrance by Herman Wouk. These epic novels detail the lives of U.S. Navy Captain Victor Henry and his family as they are swept up in the events leading up to and carrying through the war. Books like Elie Wiesel’s Night and Anne Frank – The Diary of a Young Girl detail the true-life horrors of the Holocaust, while the classic novel and Catch-22 injects an element of black humour into the dire situations facing those fighting the war on a day-to-day basis. There are even young adult books that address the war, like The Book Thief by Markus Zusak and Number the Stars, the Newbery Medal-winning novel from Lois Lowry.

For those who prefer movies to books, there are plenty of options as well. The aforementioned Winds of War and War and Remembrance were each made into miniseries starring Robert Mitchum as Captain Henry, and show the full scope of the war, including both the Atlantic and Pacific theatres as well as the Holocaust. Schindler’s List, detailing Oskar Schindler’s covert efforts to save lives during the Holocaust, is considered one of the best films of all time, while similarly acclaimed films like Saving Private Ryan and HBO’s Band of Brothers depict on-the-ground combat, as does the recently released Fury, starring Brad Pitt. To see how the war affected daily life at home, you can’t go wrong with The War, from documentarian Ken Burns.

And this is just scratching the surface of all the books and movies out there on the subject of World War II. What are some of your favourites, or what’s popular with patrons at your library? Tell us in the comments section below.

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