Take Ten: World War I Fiction

British_55th_Division_gas_casualties_10_April_1918 This August marks the centennial of the beginning of The Great War. For much of Europe, it was a devastating mess, causing deaths and destruction beyond the scope of any prior European war. The aftermath was also transforming on a large scale – political boundaries were redrawn, socioeconomic class distinctions were shaken, and the seed for revolution was planted in almost every region.

The era remains rich for storytelling, however. With varied subjects such as the causes, the trenches, the homefront, and the psychological and physical effects, many writers have plumbed the depths of the war in search for understanding. The novels listed here are prime examples of our need to comprehend the whys and hows of the First World War.

Regeneration by Pat Barker

  • Stressed by the war, poet, pacifist, and protestor Siegfried Sassoon is sent to Craiglockhart Hospital, where his views challenge the patriotic vision of Dr. William Rivers, a neurologist assigned to restore the sanity of shell-shocked soldiers. (This is the first book in the Regeneration WWI trilogy. The others are The Eye in the Door, and The Ghost Road.)

Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks

  • After loving and losing a French woman from Amiens, Stephen Wraysford serves in the French army during World War I.

Fall of Giants by Ken Follett

  • Follows the fates of five interrelated families–American, German, Russian, English, and Welsh–as they move through the dramas of the First World War, the Russian Revolution, and the struggle for women’s suffrage.

A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway

  • Story of an American ambulance driver on the Italian front during World War I and his love for an English nurse.

The Sojourn by Andrew Krivak

  • Uprooted from a nineteenth century mining town in Colorado by a shocking family tragedy, young Jozef Vinich returns with his father to an impoverished shepherd’s life in rural Austria-Hungary. When war comes, Jozef is sent as a sharpshooter to the southern front, where he must survive the killing trenches, a perilous trek across the frozen Italian Alps, and capture by a victorious enemy.

All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque

  • The testament of Paul Baumer, who enlists with his classmates in the German army of World War I, illuminates the savagery and futility of war.

To the Last Man by Michael Shaara

  • In the spring of 1918, when America enters World War I, the world waits to see if the tide of war can be turned with the renewed spirit and strength of the untested American Expeditionary Force under General John “BlackJack” Pershing.

The First of July by Elizabeth Speller

  • Follows the lives of four very different men, Frank, Benedict, Jean-Batiste, and Harry, as their fates converge on the most terrible and destructive day of World War I, the first day of the Battle of the Somme.

A Duty to the Dead by Charles Todd

  • Independent-minded Bess Crawford’s upbringing is far different from that of the usual upper-middle-class British gentlewoman. At the outbreak of WWI, she volunteers for the nursing corps, serving from the battlefields of France to the doomed hospital ship Britannic. On one voyage, she promises to a deliver a message from a dying officer to his brother. Once she’s able to do so, she’s disturbed at the brother’s indifferent reception of the message, and when an unexpected turn of events provides her with an opportunity to stay with the family for a short time, she takes it. (This the the 1st of the Bess Crawford series, followed by An Impartial Witness, A Bitter Truth, An Unmarked Grave, A Question of Honor, and An Unwilling Accomplice.)

My Dear, I Wanted to Tell You by Louisa Young

  • The lives of two very different couples–an officer and his aristocratic wife and a young soldier and his childhood sweetheart–are irrevocably intertwined and forever changed in this WWI epic of love and war.


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