Thursday, November 1, 2012

Reading Lists - War Fiction

Looking for a good war novel but you've already read all of the old classics?  Here's a list of war fiction that you may have overlooked:

Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks
Faulks deftly blends romance and war in this stirring epic of World War I. The story follows Stephen Wraysford, a young Englishman living abroad in France who joins the army when jilted by his lover.  Assigned to a unit that tunnels beneath German trenches to place mines, Stephen’s only respite comes from the companionship of his fellow soldiers.

The Boat by Lothar-G√ľnther Buchheim
The inspiration for the film Das Boot, this novel draws heavily from the author’s own experience as a lieutenant on a German U-boat during World War II.  Buchheim shows exactly what life is like on a submarine, from the feelings of claustrophobia and the bouts of prolonged boredom to the brief periods of intense action in warfare. 

The Fort by Bernard Cornwell
Fans of Cornwell’s Sharpe series won’t want to miss The Fort, his excellent novel about a little known Revolutionary War campaign fought in New England in 1779.  When the British move a small force of Scottish soldiers into a fort at Penobscot Bay, the Americans stage an attack that is marred by strategic blunders and sloppy execution.

Gates of Fire by Stephen Pressfield
Gates of Fire is an impressive fictionalization of the legendary Battle of Thermopylae in 480 B.C., in which 300 Spartans bravely fought against 100,000 Persians.  Told in flashback by Xeo, the only Spartan survivor, the action packed story is brought to life by Pressfield’s ability to capture the feverish intensity and sheer physicality of ancient warfare.

The Gates of the Alamo by Stephen Harrigan
The Gates of the Alamo is a fascinatingly unique take on one of the most famous battles in American history.  Rather than focus on the renowned heroes of the Alamo, Harrigan depicts the events primarily through the eyes of three civilians who become unwittingly involved in Texas’s fight for independence from Mexico.   

The March by E.L. Doctorow
Versatile author E.L. Doctorow has a knack for weaving fact and fiction in his novels of the American past.  In The March he sets his attention upon the Civil War and Sherman’s march to Georgia, using a host of characters, both real and imagined, Northern and Southern, black and white, to tell the riveting story. 

Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes
It took Marlantes over thirty years to write and publish his epic Vietnam novel about the boys of Bravo Company.  Led by the inexperienced Waino Mellas, one of the oldest members of the troop at age 22, they face not only the danger of combat but also the perils of jungle predators, tropical storms, starvation, and internal feuding and racial tension.

Rise to Rebellion by Jeff Shaara
Author of the classic Civil War novel Gods and Generals, Shaara proves himself equally adept at recreating the beginning years of the Revolutionary War in Rise to Rebellion.  From the Boston Tea Party to the Battle of Bunker Hill, Shaara covers all of the important events, on and off the battlefield, of the struggle that gave birth to a new nation. 

Shiloh by Shelby Foote
Shelby Foote, author of the three volume The Civil War: A Narrative, narrowed his focus for this insightful novel about the two days that made up the pivotal Battle of Shiloh in April 1862.  In contrast to the detailed history of the former work, Shiloh aims to give the reader a glimpse of what exactly went through the minds of soldiers from both sides  as they engaged in one of the bloodiest battles of the war.

A Soldier of the Great War by Mark Helprin
An elderly man walking along a dirt road meets a young boy and starts to tell his life story.  Thus begins A Soldier of the Great War, an enthralling account of Alesandro Giuliani’s amazing experiences as a soldier during World War I.  Readers will be kept on the edge of their seats by the remarkable twists and turns of Alesandro’s tale. 

The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien
A collection of interwoven short stories that reads like a novel, The Things They Carried gives the reader brief snapshots of soldiers’ lives before, during, and after the Vietnam War.  The  title story is pure genius— a seemingly dispassionate inventory of items carried by soldiers that takes on a heartbreaking poignancy as the narrative unfolds. 

War of the Rats by David L. Robbins
As the Russians and Germans battle over Stalingrad in 1942, two expert snipers face off in a tense strategic showdown amid the  destruction of the city.  Inspired by real events, the supremely suspenseful War of the Rats investigates the inner workings of men trained to be cold-blooded master assassins.

The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers
The Yellow Birds stands out as one the best novels on the recent conflict in the Middle East.  Powers, a veteran of the Iraq war, uses his firsthand knowledge of combat to create a work that illustrates the fragile emotional and psychological states of soldiers as they witness horrific violence on a daily basis.