COLUMN: Lest We Forget

Frances Thomson, community librarian at the George Mackie Library, recommends some historical fiction to read this Remembrance Day.

George Mackie Library in North Delta

Every year on Nov. 11, Canadians take time to remember the men and women who have served, and continue to serve, our country during times of war, conflict and peace. Over 2.3 million Canadians have served in this way, and more than 118,000 lost their lives doing so.

My favourite genre of book is historical fiction. It began in elementary school when I read Anne Frank’s The Diary of a Young Girl for the first time. Since then I have been interested in stories of life during the two world wars, the Holocaust and the resistance movement.

Crooked Heart, by Lissa Evans, tells the story of 10-year-old Noel who has been evacuated from London during the Blitz. He is placed with Vera Sedge, a 36-year-old widow who is drowning in debt. She has designs on using Noel, who limps, to gain sympathy as she solicits donations for her war charity scam while pocketing the money. Amid the terrors of war are some lighthearted and humorous moments between the precocious orphan and his guardian.

Set during the German occupation of France in the Second World War, Kristen Hannah’s The Nightingale is an epic family drama about sisters Viann and Isabelle Rossignol, whose lives took very different paths after the death of their mother turned their father into a distant parent. Through Viann we see how life was disrupted when men were forced to enlist while the Germans took over their towns and villages. The younger Isabelle, always rebellious, joins the resistance in Paris, risking her life guiding fallen airmen out of France.

The Far Side of the Sky is the first book in a wartime trilogy by Daniel Kalla. (Interesting side note – the author is an emergency room physician at Vancouver General Hospital.) Franz Adler, a secular Austrian Jew and surgeon, witnesses the wave of anti-Semitic violence on Kristallnacht when his brother is killed. He manages to secure passage to Shanghai for himself, his daughter and his sister-in-law. The trilogy focuses on the little-known part of Holocaust history – the 20,000 German Jews who escaped to Shanghai where Nazis, Communists, Japanese, English and Americans all lived together under surreal circumstances.

In addition to the countless novels about war, there are as many memoirs and non-fiction books about this period of history. A Train in Winter by Caroline Moorehead is a well-researched account about some of the 230 French women who were part of the resistance movement in Paris. Among them were teachers, students, chemists and an opera singer. In 1943 they were sent to their final destination: Auschwitz. Only 49 would return to France. The book draws on interviews with these women and their families.

Moorehead followed up this bestseller with Village of Secrets: Defying the Nazis in Vichy France. High in the mountains of southern France, the inhabitants of Le Chambon saved thousands wanted by the Gestapo. Many were children and babies whose parents had been sent to the death camps in Poland.

While some books about war may be difficult to read, many offer inspiring stories of ordinary people, bravery and survival. We must never forget these dark times in world history.

Frances Thomson is the community librarian at the George Mackie Library. For more information about books and events at the library, visit fvrl.bc.ca.