Friday, April 02, 2021

A historical fiction microtrend: World War II, librarians, and books

Historical fiction's enduring focus on World War II has been good for my profession. No longer stereotyped as prim and mousy spinsters, librarians in today's novels are multifaceted heroes who work tirelessly to preserve the written word and undertake other daring exploits. Within the collage of nine novels below, I've also included WWII-set fiction about booksellers, book clubs, the publishing industry, and literature's power to endure.


When We Meet Again by Caroline Beecham (Putnam, Jul. 2021), her first novel to be published in the US, focuses on a woman employed in London's publishing industry in 1943 and her plight following an unintended pregnancy. Antonio Iturbe's The Librarian of Auschwitz (2017), marketed towards YAs but suitable for adults as well. reveals the story of Holocaust survivor Dita Kraus who, as a teenager, courageously guarded eight books within the Auschwitz death camp. Nancy Mitford, one of the famous Mitford sisters, stars in Michelle Gable's The Bookseller's Secret (Graydon House, Aug.), a multi-period novel which depicts her time as a bookshop manager and literary salon hostess in 1940s London.

So many of these novels are set in London and Paris!  Janet Skeslien Charles' The Paris Library (Atria, Feb. 2021) reveals the heroic actions of the staff at the American Library in Paris during the Nazi occupation. Third in her Sunrise at Normandy series, The Land Beneath Us by Sarah Sundin (Revell, 2020) tells the romantic story of a library worker at Camp Forrest, Tennessee, who exchanges letters with her new husband after he's sent to fight overseas. And Mario Escobar's The Librarian of Saint-Malo (Thomas Nelson, June 2021) takes place in Nazi-occupied Brittany and a woman who dares to save books that the Nazis are purging from St.-Malo's libraries.

Kristin Harmel's multi-period The Book of Lost Names (Gallery, Jul. 2020), like the previous book, focuses on Nazi soldiers' looting of European libraries; in contemporary times, a librarian comes across a book that holds codes only she can decipher.  Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows' The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (2008), now a modern classic with a film version, revolves around a book club on Guernsey during wartime and celebrates how books can unite people. Lastly, Madeline Martin's The Last Bookshop in London (Hanover Square, Apr. 2021), set during the Blitz, centers on a young bookshop employee and how storytelling can keep hope alive.


  1. What fun it would be to have that stack of nine on my bedside table - and the time to read them! I read the Guernsey book many years ago and enjoyed it - I think "The Paris Library" would be the next one up. Thanks for the list!

  2. The Guernsey book was such an enjoyable read. I'll probably be reading Librarian of Saint-Malo next since it's for a blog tour, plus I got the chance to visit the city with my high school French class a long time ago.

  3. This is a great post for Library Week (4/4-4/10/2021). I've read a bunch of these books, but my favorite is The Librarian of Auschwitz, which I thought was a wonderful blending of fact and fiction. I also very much enjoyed The Guernsey book.

  4. I hadn't planned the timing for the post, but it does work out well! Happy National Library Week! I've been eyeing my library's copy of The Librarian of Auschwitz and should check it out tomorrow.

  5. The Book of Lost Names was a great read. I enjoyed it so much. I devoured it in one sitting.