Tag Archives: WWII

The Street of a Thousand Blossoms by Gail Tsukiyama (review by Catherine H. ’17)

The Street of a Thousand BlossomsThe Street of a Thousand Blossoms by Gail Tsukiyama
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Gail Tsukiyama’s simple yet beautiful writing style draws the reader into this well crafted tale of two brothers whose stories span several decades. Set in Japan in 1939 on the eve of the second world war, Hiroshi finds his passion in sumo wrestling while his younger brother Kenji discovers the ancient art of carving masks for traditional Japanese theater. When the war comes, the two must readjust their lives, and when it is over, they must take part in the rebuilding of their nation.

I found this novel to be deeply touching and greatly appreciated the way Tsukiyama wrote about the struggles that each of the characters face and would highly recommend it to any reader looking for a coming of age story.

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The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II by Iris Chang (review by Andrew R. ’17)

The Rape of NankingThe Rape of Nanking by Iris Chang
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Iris Chang’s account of the Rape of Nanking, the month-and-a-half-long period of looting, barbarism, and murder after Japanese forces captured the then-capital of China in 1937, is the first book of its kind to be published in English. Part of the reason for this appalling lack of coverage of the massacre in the United States is that certain details, like the exact death count (somewhere in the hundreds of thousands), are still debated and may never be known for sure; Japanese officials’ ongoing reluctance to acknowledge the episode, as well as the intense pain associated with it for the families of all involved, have also prevented it from being intensely studied by American historians. Chang’s book, then, is enormously important in that it fills a gaping hole in the library of English-language studies of World War II, but that doesn’t mean I’d recommend it. The Rape of Nanking is painful to read, with its graphic descriptions of mutilation and abduction and its photos of the episode’s victims, alive and dead; the early chapters especially are as unpleasant and intense as they are informative. This is a brave book, an important book, but you should know what you’re getting into before you pick it up.

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All Clear by Connie Willis (review by Connie M. ’17)

All Clear (Oxford Time Travel, #4)All Clear by Connie Willis
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

All Clear is the second half of the time travel Blackout/All Clear duo by Connie Willis, set in World War II. While I found Blackout a bit frustratingly repetitive in places, All Clear was a whirlwind of plot twist after plot twist, with an emotional range of unfathomable despair to shock to tentative joy. Willis will leave you gasping aloud in both excitement and frustration as the three main characters attempt to return to 2060 from WWII. Willis leaps back and forth between different times, places and characters, thus weaving in an element of mystery (pay attention to the date printed at the beginning of each chapter). Blackout and All Clear are must-reads for any time travel or historical fiction fan, but as a message about the strength of the common person undergoing unimaginable hardship and sacrifice, these two novels would be enjoyed by anyone.

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Blackout by Connie Willis (review by Connie M. ’17)

Blackout (Oxford Time Travel, #3)Blackout by Connie Willis
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was the first time I read a work by Connie Willis. Blackout is, at its core, historical fiction, though laced with elements of sci-fi in the form of time travel. The premise of all of Willis’s time travel novels is that in the near future (2060) Oxford University historians will conduct their research by traveling back in time to their periods of study. In Blackout, several historians travel to England during World War II, disguising themselves in various locations including London during the Blitz, Dunkirk during the evacuation, and a countryside manor house. However, something has gone wrong with the historians’ return mechanism (called the drop), and our heroes are trapped. At first, I found Blackout to be immensely interesting, as the story exuded all the emotions and attitudes of WWII life and at times even made me feel slightly panicked. However, 500 pages of nearly the same phrase (“Where is the retrieval team? Why is my drop not working?”) began to get frustrating. I will be reading the sequel, which essentially is a direct continuation from the 1st book with hardly a transition at all, but only because I’m curious to find out how/if the characters return to 2060. In the end, I would recommend this book, as the story is extremely immersive, but don’t attempt it unless you’re ready to read 1000 pages of WWII historical fiction.

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All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr (review by Connie M. ’17)

All the Light We Cannot SeeAll the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

All the Light We Cannot See met and exceeded my high expectations. Doerr’s masterpiece, transitionally smooth between the simultaneous stories of the two main characters, is written eloquently and at times poetically. The plot line is intensely gripping and not only conveys the deep horror and trauma caused by WWII both on the French and the German sides but also reminds us of the beauty and light that exist even in dark times. This book is not a romance — as suggested by the publisher’s book summary. Readers should be prepared for a story that is raw and emotionally moving. The decade Doerr used to write All the Light We Cannot See paid off. – Connie M. ’17

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A Separate Peace by John Knowles (review by Andrew R. ’17)

A Separate PeaceA Separate Peace by John Knowles
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A Separate Peace is such a refreshing change of pace, it deserves its own genre. Set at a boys’ boarding school in the final years of the World War II draft, it follows the powerful friendship and all-consuming rivalry between Gene and Phineas as the two students battle their teachers, the war, and each other. A Separate Peace is worth a read simply for its historical aspect—written in 1946, it chronicles the overlooked perspective of an adolescent during wartime, and its setting is as far as can be from Normandy and Auschwitz. But Knowles’s true mastery lies in his themes, deeply nuanced and constantly developed to more complex and enlightening forms, and by the end of Gene’s tale he has painted a beautiful portrait of conflict in any setting. A Separate Peace may make a perfect subject for an English essay, but at the same time its gravity and depth merit at least one read from any serious student of the Second World War. – Andrew R. ’17

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Wodehouse: A Life by Robert McCrum (review by Andrew R. ’17)

Wodehouse: A LifeWodehouse: A Life by Robert McCrum
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

20th-century humorist P. G. Wodehouse may have lived a life in which, by his own admission, “nothing really interesting happened, just meals and taking the dog for a walk,” but he still managed to leave behind countless thousands of pages of letters, articles, interviews, and fiction when he passed away in the 1970s—and it’s clear that dedicated biographer Robert McCrum has sifted through almost this entire mountain of material. Wodehouse: A Life is a tough read, not least because its quintessentially British subject gives rise to many quintessentially British references (Dickens; Eton; Lord Haw-Haw) that American readers would be hard-pressed to understand. Still, given the difficulty of studying a man whose ninety-four-year life was characterized mainly by dull monotony, McCrum has done a commendable job critiquing Wodehouse’s work and analyzing his thought processes in this nuanced look at the humorist’s history. I would recommend this biography not to hardened fans of Jeeves and Wooster, but to readers who are only beginning to delve into Wodehouse’s body of work; Wodehousian apprentices will likely be able to better interpret McCrum’s literary critiques as recommendations for their next humorous read. – Andrew R. ’17

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Alicia: My Story by Alicia Appleman Jurman (review by Maya V. ’17)

AliciaAlicia by Alicia Appleman-Jurman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Alicia: My Story by Alicia Appleman-Jurman is a World War II memoir of the author’s experience as a young Jewish girl during the holocaust. After her brothers are brutally murdered by the Nazis, Alicia begins to realize the gravity of the situation around her. She and her remaining family members flee to ghettos, hide from the gestapo in underground barracks, and trek across the country, but still cannot find refuge. Alicia’s entire family is soon gone, and she is left to fend for herself. Appleman-Jurman is a true master of detail and description as displayed throughout the novel. The heart wrenching details of her emotional and physical pain are agonizing. Her description of the rage and cruelty the Nazis showed towards her and others makes you question if people with such dark hearts could have ever existed. Every aspect of this novel is written with clarity, honesty, and depth, which allows you to feel like you are in the position of the main character. Alicia: My Story is a must-read for young-adults. While the story is very tragic and may not suit every reader, it forces you to appreciate even the smallest luxuries of life. If you are a fan of historical non-fiction and gorgeous descriptions, this book is definitely for you. – Maya V ’17

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Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand (review by Sra. Moss, Harker teacher)

Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and RedemptionUnbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“Survival, Resilience and Redemption” read the book’s subtitle. The most amazing thing about this book is that it’s a true story! Louis Zamperini, now age 93, was a delinquent youth, then trained for and ran in the 1936 Olympics, survived 49 days at sea after being shot down over the Pacific in WW II and then three years in a prison camp in Japan. It was hard to imagine how things could ever get worse for this man, as I turned page after page, yet he survived it all to become an inspirational speaker and impassioned role model for troubled youth. It is only a matter of time before this is made into a movie. Hmmm, which actor will play him? He’ll have enormous shoes to fill! – Sra. Moss, Harker teacher

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Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford (review by Elisabeth S. ’16)

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and SweetHotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This heartwarming novel’s chapters seamlessly alternate setting from the 1940s to 1986, describing the life of Chinese immigrant Henry Lee during World War II and his struggles in a time of hostility against all things and people labeled Eastern. Lee juggles a precarious relationship with a young Japanese girl named Keiko despite his parents’ protests. The novel also focuses on Henry’s past and present relationships — namely his Chinese parents who frantically urge him to become as American as possible and a local jazz musician, his wife and his son who has recently come of age. The novel’s evocative and sweet writing brings Henry and Keiko’s relationship into heart-wrenching detail and sheds a great deal of light on the American -Chinese point of view on the war. is highly recommended to both aficionados and casual readers of historical fiction as an accessible piece of writing that lives up to its name in evoking emotions both bitter and sweet. – Elisabeth S. ’16

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