Ellen Feldman, whose novel NEXT TO LOVE follows the lives of three women during the years of World War II and its aftermath, shares some of her favorite books about the World War II home front.July 18, 2011
Most World War II novels are tales of the actual fighting, but a few tell what life was like at home.
"The Lovely Leave," a short story by Dorothy Parker in the Viking Portable Dorothy Parker, brings home the pain of a young married couple's separation and the anguish of an all-too-brief leave with aching immediacy.
Guard of Honor, by James Gould Cozzens, which won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1949, is technically a military story, but it takes place on a base in Florida and is really about the military on the home front.
Tales of the South Pacific, by James A. Michener, is, as the title implies, set in a war zone, but the battles that rage are not military, and the original Nellie Forbush in the story did not have nearly as good a time as she did in the smash musical.
Everyone knows the movie, The Best Years of Our Lives, but few have read the long narrative poem by MacKinley Kantor that it was based on. Though I have nothing on which to ground my speculation, I cannot help thinking Kantor was trying to do for World War II what Stephen Vincent Benet had done for the Civil War in John Brown's Body.
Collections of letters from men and women serving in the military, while not technically about the home front, provide vivid pictures of life during the war.
As Always, Jack: A World War II Love Story, by Emma Sweeney, which will be reissued in January, 2012, is a beautiful tale of the author's parents' courtship as told through her father's letters.
War Letters: Extraordinary Correspondence from American Wars, edited by Andrew Carroll, has a deeply moving section of World War II letters.
Since You Went Away: World War II Letters from American Women on the Home Front, edited by Judy Barrett Litoff and David C. Smith, reveals what it was like for the women once the men went to war.
Don't You Know There's a War On, by Richard Lingeman, presents a bird's eye view of America in the throes of war, including such fascinating tidbits as the fifty-three girls who were sent home from the Vought-Sikorsky Aircraft factory on "moral grounds" because they wore sweaters to work on the assembly line. For some reason, the women who wore sweaters to work in the office were not deemed immoral.
G.I. Jews: How World War II Changed a Generation, by Deborah Dash Moore, examines what it was like for the roughly half million young Jewish men who served in the war.
Fighting in the Jim Crow Army: Black Men and Women Remember World War II, by Maggi M. Morehouse, does the same for the one million African-Americans who endured the same segregation and injustice in military life as they did in civilian.
Virtue Under Fire, by John Costello, is a study of changing sexual mores and morals during the war.