Hornet Flight – by Ken Follett (2002)

hornet flight

The country of Denmark is quite small – only 43,094 square kilometers (16,638 square miles) – and that counts the main peninsula, the Faroe Islands and Greenland. Norway and Sweden lie to the north, and Germany to the south. During World War II, the tiny country of Denmark was easily overrun by the Nazi army. Its citizen were limited in size and number, but great in spirit and courage. It is this setting that the author chose for his book.

Although “The Hornet Flight” is a work of fiction, it is based on actual events during World War II. The Germans did indeed have advanced radar devices along the North Sea that could detect the Allied airplanes, which resulted in a horrendous amount of them being shot down. And yes, there were two Danish citizens that found an old plane in storage, and used it to transport important information to the Allies. The strict Protestant flavor of the community is also true to life. But the characters in the book are fictional.

The story mainly centers around Harald Olufsen, his desire to fly, and the discovery of an old forgotten airplane in a barn. I appreciated the way that the author also pulled women into the story (Karen and Hermia), and showed them as important parts of the Danish Resistance. While the end of the story was predictable because we know so much about World War II, it was a historical novel worth reading.

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The Green Glass Sea – by Ellen Klages (2006)

The Green Glass Sea

It was a strange and unsettled time for Dewey Kerrigan. The world was at war, and her father had joined a group of scientists in a secluded area of New Mexico. What they were working on was top-secret, and the little town did not appear on any maps. With her dad constantly working, and the other girls at school treating her with scorn, Dewey was lonely. To keep her mind occupied, she salvaged metal parts from the scientists’ junkyard and built all sorts of gadgets. As time went on, she did develop some friendships, but never felt completely at home.

I enjoyed the historic setting of this novel. It portrayed the frantic rush of scientists, the daily life on the compound, how children often fended for themselves, what the bomb site looked like, and the secrecy of the government. This book received the Scott O’Dell Award For Historic Fiction, and several other awards. It is definitely worth reading.

Snow Treasure – by Marie McSwigan (1942)

Snow Treasure

When our first snowfall of the season hit, it seemed the perfect time to pull out one of my favorite childhood novels, “Snow Treasure”. The book was written in 1942, while World War II was still going on. It’s about a small community in Norway in 1940 that is on the verge of becoming Nazi-occupied. A local banker devises a scheme to smuggle a large amount of gold bullion out of the country so that the occupying forces cannot take it. The village children will put bricks of gold on their sleds, and slide down the hill right past the soldiers, then pull the sleds the rest of the way to Uncle Victor’s ship, which will transport it to the United States.

I must say I found the story to be more exciting when I was a kid, believing it to actually be true! As an adult, I can see the improbability of this plan working. There was a fair amount of gold smuggled out of the country, but not by children on sleds. That being said, it makes an inspiring story for children, and shows that even if you’re only ten or twelve, there’s a lot you can do for your community.

Don’t Give Up, Don’t Give In – by Louis Zamperini and David Rensin (2014)

Don't Give Up

 

Having read Mr. Zamperini’s thick, detailed biography “Unbroken”, I was excited to find another book about him at my local library. This book is much shorter, and is not a biography. It’s a collection of Mr. Zamperini’s reflections as he looked back over his life. He shared thoughts on how he survived many nearly impossible obstacles in life, and how to keep going when all the odds are against you.

Mr. Zamperini was 97 years old when he co-wrote the book with Mr. Rensin. Just two days after the manuscript was completed and sent off to the publisher, he passed from this life to the next. His work on earth was complete, and he left when he was finished.

On this last day of the Thanksgiving weekend, I am thankful for people like Mr. Zamperini who are willing to share their wisdom with the rest of us. He did it in such a humble way that it doesn’t come across as superior or preachy, and I look forward to meeting him someday.

Sarah’s Key – by Tatiana de Rosnay (2007)

Sarah's Key

There have been hundreds of books written about World War II, some being true stories, and others being fictional but based around actual events during the war. “Sarah’s Key” is fiction, although the setting is a Paris police round-up in July of 1942.

The Starzynski family is living in Paris when the local French police, under orders from the Germans, round up all the Jews they can find – men, women and children. When the police bang on their door, 10-year-old Sarah locks her little brother Michael in a cupboard, thinking they will merely be questioned at the police station and they will be able to come back for him later. Instead, Sarah and her parents are herded into the Vélodrome d’Hiver stadium, along with 28,000 other Jews. They are held there for five days, then stuffed onto a train, and sent to the Beaune-la-Rolande internment camp. Sarah is able to escape from the camp before everyone there is transferred to Auschwitz, but is too late to save her brother’s life.

The story switches back and forth from Sarah’s story to the present-day story of Julia, an American journalist in Paris. Julia is given the assignment of researching the Vel’ d’Hiv detainment of Jews by French police, as the 60th anniversary of the event approaches. Strangely, many Parisians claim to have no memory of this event in their city’s history. It has been purposely forgotten, buried under the rug as several generations have passed by. The more Sarah investigates, the more obsessed she becomes. Eventually it affects her life and her marriage.

This was a difficult book to read. The character of Sarah was fictional, but the arrests, the separating of the parents from the children, and the premeditated murder of 28,000 innocent people was real. I asked myself, how could human beings who are capable of great love participate in such hate and evil? I can fathom the occasional psychopathic killer doing something so sick, but how did so many people participate in these atrocities? And not just one time, but over and over for years. It sickened me to think of people choosing to torture, starve and kill their fellow man. It is also sickening to think about how the Holocaust is slowly being covered over. Despite the evidence of interviews with people that lived through it, video footage, photography, and written testimony, there are still people who believe it never happened, or that reports were exaggerated. Denying the truth can only lead people to do the same evil things over and over.

When Books Went To War – by Molly Guptill Manning (2014)

When Books Went To War

Did you know that during World War II, Europe lost approximately 100,000,000 printed books? It began with Hitler’s followers conducting book-burning events, targeting books by Jewish authors and books that held views different from their own. Then lists were made for the general public, advising them that they might not want to be caught during a home inspection with such books. The lists grew longer. Fear built up, and people began burning any of their own books that were deemed objectionable. As the Nazis bombed country after country, entire libraries were obliterated.

Adolph Hitler was an evil man, but he was not stupid. He realized the power of written words to motivate people, to educate and inform them, to influence the masses, and to lift discouraged spirits. Taking away books was just one of the ways he used to control and intimidate the conquered.

Then the United States was attacked at Pearl Harbor, and was pulled into the war. As ordinary Americans were drafted and sent for training to become soldiers, librarians across the country came up with a brilliant idea. They wanted to supply all the troops with books to keep their morale up, and to give them a diversion from the horrors of war. Publishers, librarians, Congress and ordinary citizens all worked together to supply soldiers with books, and later to help bring books to Europe.

I absolutely loved this book! It’s rare now to find people that impassioned about books and reading (which is sad).  The letters that the soldiers wrote home, describing the relief that the books brought, were heart-warming. For many, it was a life-line that helped them keep their sanity. Men who had never had an interest in reading were totally hooked on reading by the end of the war. Of all the non-fiction books I have read this past year, this was among my favorite.

 

East Wind, Rain – by Caroline Paul (2006)

east-wind-rain

 

Imagine that you live on a small Pacific Island during World War II, and that your island has no contact with the outside world. Then imagine that a one-man Japanese fighter plane crashes on your island. You are one of only three people who are of Japanese descent and speak the language. The pilot tells you that Japan is at war with your country, the island will soon be invaded, and you need to cooperate with him.

It did indeed happen. A Japanese Zero plane crash-landed on the privately owned island of Niihua, shocking all 130 inhabitants, most of whom were native Hawaiians. The islanders captured the pilot, and waited for Mr. Robinson, the owner of the island, to come and figure out what to do with him. As the days went by, Mr. Robinson did not come and the people became increasingly distressed. Only the three Japanese islanders knew the truth, and they found themselves torn between their loyalty to the United States, and their desire to save themselves from death when and if the Japanese invaded..

The author did a powerful job of taking these facts and adding dialogue and personality to the people of Niihua island. The book is definitely more fact than fiction. The only thing that I found odd about the book was that the author chose not to use any quotation marks, just small dashes at the beginning of dialogue. But if you want a book that is really different from your average fiction, and you enjoy history, this is your book. Look for it at your favorite public library or bookstore, making sure you have the right author, as there are multiple books with the same title.