Nine Novels to Read in November
Arlington National Cemetery in America.
Westminster Abbey in England.
Arc de Triomphe in France.
These sites, each a place held in honor in their respective countries, house the remains of an unknown soldier, memorial gestures in recognition of the end of World War I. Originally called Armistice Day (armistice meaning "truce") worldwide, the American holiday has expanded to include veterans from all wars since that Great War, changing the day officially to Veterans Day.
In recognition of Veterans Day (November 11), here are a few titles worth a read that center around the origin of the holiday - Armistice Day.
If you are looking to up your attitude of gratitude this month, I encourage you to check out one of these Nine Novels to Read in November.
1. A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway
→ Synopsis: "Frederic Henry is an American Lieutenant serving in the ambulance corps of the Italian army during the First World War. While stationed in northern Italy, he falls in love with Catherine Barkley, an English nurse. Theirs is an intense, tender and passionate love affair overshadowed by the war. Ernest Hemingway spares nothing in his denunciation of the horrors of combat, yet vividly depicts the courage shown by so many.
In writing A Farewell to Arms, Hemingway was inspired by his own wartime experience as an ambulance driver for the Red Cross. First published in 1929, the novel made his name and remains one of his finest works." (via PanMacMillan.com)
→ Why I want to read it: Ernest Hemingway is one of the few fiction writers who has managed to capture my husband's heart. Since I absolutely loved my first Hemingway (The Old Man and the Sea, which I turned into a book box for PL's Monthly Book Club), I think this one is equally bound to become a favorite.
2. All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque
→ Synopsis: "Released in 1929 and based upon his own experience as an infantry soldier, Remarque’s account of the First World War supplied a brand-new perspective of the soldier’s experience. While war literature had previously been dominated by generals with a tendency to romanticise warfare, each scene of All Quiet on the Western Front is informed by the horror and brutality of trench warfare.
The visual imagery portrayed throughout the narrative is imaginative rather than literarily charged, enabling the reader to grasp the truly graphic sights soldiers were exposed to in the First World War...This intricate detail is not used to shock, but to demonstrate how these images became seared into the brains of the young men depicted in the narrative. No longer able to communicate with their family, friends and even themselves, the youthful infantrymen of the First World War became the lost generation." (via WesternFrontAssociation.com)
→ Why I read it: Having heard the title most of my life, I decided this month to see what it was all about for myself. I spent a day and a half transported to the Western Front during the Great War, taking shelter in trenches, rescuing fellow soldiers who had fallen, and trying my darndest to stay alive for the sake of myself and my beloved mother back home. (Read more of my thoughts about this title on Instagram or Facebook.)
3. Stella Bain by Anita Shreve
→ Synopsis: "An epic story, set against the backdrop of World War I, from bestselling author Anita Shreve. When an American woman, Stella Bain, is found suffering from severe shell shock in an exclusive garden in London, surgeon August Bridge and his wife selflessly agree to take her in.
A gesture of goodwill turns into something more as Bridge quickly develops a clinical interest in his houseguest. Stella had been working as a nurse's aide near the front, but she can't remember anything prior to four months earlier when she was found wounded on a French battlefield.
In a narrative that takes us from London to America and back again, Shreve has created an engrossing and wrenching tale about love and the meaning of memory, set against the haunting backdrop of a war that destroyed an entire generation." (via Goodreads.com)
→ Why I read it: I am always interested when I find a historical novel that presents the feminine point of view, especially when it revolves around an event that is usually presented from the male perspective. Stella Bain is one such novel. Centered around a woman suffering shellshock after serving as a wartime ambulance driver (see A Farewell to Arms above), the novel charted the recovery of her memory, her family, and her life as she navigated a war felt 'round the world.
4. Switchboard Soldiers by Jennifer Chiaverini
→ Synopsis: "In June 1917, General John Pershing arrived in France to establish American forces in Europe. He immediately found himself unable to communicate with troops in the field. Pershing needed telephone operators who could swiftly and accurately connect multiple calls, speak fluent French and English, remain steady under fire, and be utterly discreet, since the calls often conveyed classified information.
At the time, nearly all well-trained American telephone operators were women—but women were not permitted to enlist, or even to vote in most states. Nevertheless, the U.S. Army Signal Corps promptly began recruiting them.
More than 7,600 women responded, including Grace Banker of New Jersey, a switchboard instructor with AT&T and an alumna of Barnard College; Marie Miossec, a Frenchwoman and aspiring opera singer; and Valerie DeSmedt, a twenty-year-old Pacific Telephone operator from Los Angeles, determined to strike a blow for her native Belgium.
They were among the first women sworn into the U.S. Army under the Articles of War...Deployed throughout France, including near the front lines, the operators endured hardships and risked death or injury from gunfire, bombardments, and the Spanish Flu. Not all of them would survive.
The women of the U.S. Army Signal Corps served with honor and played an essential role in achieving the Allied victory. Their story has never been the focus of a novel…until now." (via HarperCollins.com)
→ Why I read it: I am fascinated by the behind-the-scenes volunteers and workers that have sacrificed for their country and countrymen, but whose stories have remained quietly in the background. Until these newer novels were published, I had assumed all womenfolk remained at home awaiting word from their menfolk fighting on the fronts (see All Quiet on the Western Front above). Such books give us a clearer understanding of the truth of our past.
5. The Alice Network by Kate Quinn
→ Synopsis: "𝑇ℎ𝑒 𝐴𝑙𝑖𝑐𝑒 𝑁𝑒𝑡𝑤𝑜𝑟𝑘 is historical fiction set during WW1 and is based on a real-life spy ring that went by the same name that recruited women as undercover agents in invisible roles. Based on real-life spy, Louise de Bettignies, 𝑇ℎ𝑒 𝐴𝑙𝑖𝑐𝑒 𝑁𝑒𝑡𝑤𝑜𝑟𝑘 is part road trip, part mystery all wrapped up in an engaging, seat-of-your-pants story of female friendship and lost-and-found loves.
If you want to read a root-worthy adventure set in beautiful Europe, 𝑇ℎ𝑒 𝐴𝑙𝑖𝑐𝑒 𝑁𝑒𝑡𝑤𝑜𝑟𝑘 should top your shortlist." (via my Pretty Literate Book Rec)
→ Why I read it: I had seen it on social media for months and one summer day, a man donated it to my Little Free Library and the rest, like they say, was history. Travel. Europe. Friendships. Redemption. I was there for it.
6. The Daughters of Mars by Thomas Keneally
→ Synopsis: "...The acclaimed author of Schindler’s List tells the unforgettable story of two sisters whose lives are transformed by the cataclysm of the first world war.
In 1915, Naomi and Sally Durance, two spirited Australian sisters, join the war effort as nurses, escaping the confines of their father’s farm and carrying a guilty secret with them. Amid the carnage, the sisters’ tenuous bond strengthens as they bravely face extreme danger and hostility—sometimes from their own side. There is great humor and compassion, too, and the inspiring example of the incredible women they serve alongside. In France, each meets an exceptional man, the kind for whom she might relinquish her newfound independence—if only they all survive.
At once vast in scope and extraordinarily intimate, The Daughters of Mars is a remarkable novel about suffering and transcendence, despair and triumph, and the simple acts of decency that make us human even in a world gone mad." (via SimonandSchuster.com)
→ Why I want to read it: Author of Schindler's List. Sister story. Sacrifice and serving. I'm here for it.
7. The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson
→ Synopsis: "Simonson is back with The Summer Before the War, a gentle comedy of provincial manners that rivals her first in the charm department. The setting is Rye, 'a little high-perched Sussex town,' as the author Henry James has it in the book's epigraph. The novel depicts the fraught period just before the U.K. is to enter World War I, when few Brits had an inkling of the changes that would befall them. When the narrative begins, Archduke Ferdinand has been assassinated in Sarajevo, the incident which will trigger the hostilities. Whitehall is 'crammed with busy civil servant politicians, and generals,' but Germany has not yet stormed Belgium. The rural realm of Sussex is still a place of peace and quirky goings-on." (via npr.org)
→ Why I read it: I read online that it was like an extended season of Downton Abbey when the war touched close to home. It was that ~ and so much more! With a full line up of engaging characters, I appreciated the slower paced start since it gave me time to get to know everyone in this quaint English village before war visited them in the second and third sections of the novel.
8. To the Last Man by Jeff Shaara
→ Synopsis: "To The Last Man deals with one of the most tragic events in world history: the First World War. Focusing first on key characters from the British, French and German points of view, the story moves past the years of stalemate and extraordinary horror to the final two years of the war. As the Allies face the Germans across the desolate no-man's land of the Western Front, neither the British nor the French can seem to hold back the awful tide of attrition that threatens to insure a German victory.
In 1917, President Woodrow Wilson declares war on Germany, bringing America's professed neutrality to an end, and the balance of power swings in the Allies' favor. With the energy, resources and enthusiasm of the American army poured into the last great struggles of the war, their sacrifice and extraordinary heroism finally bring one of mankind's most horrific chapters to a conclusion." (via JeffShaara.com)
→ Why I want to read it: It has been a minute since I was in school, studying and cramming information into my head to regurgitate onto a test. I'd love a book to walk me through the key points of the World War that birthed the lost generation in an engaging, memorable way.
9. War Horse by Michael Morpurgo
→ Synopsis: "It is 1914, and Joey, a farm horse, is sold to the army and thrust into the midst of World War I on the Western Front. When Joey is dragged away, his heart aches for Albert, the farmer's son he is forced to leave behind.
In the army the beautiful red-bay horse is trained to charge the enemy, drag heavy artillery, and carry wounded soldiers not much older than Albert off the battlefields. Amongst the clamoring of guns, and while plodding through the cold mud, Joey wonders if the war will ever end. And if it does, will he ever find Albert again?" (via BarnesandNoble.com)
→ Why I want to read it: Honestly, I saw trailers for the movie a while back and once I learned the movie was based on a book, I knew I wanted to read it before I watched it.
Bonus Book Recs
What wartime books would you recommend reading - and why? I hope you'll share your favorite titles and authors in the comments.