Double Victory: Minorities and Women During World War II
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Literature of World War II

The devastation wrought by World War II was immense. This second world conflagration of the century was experienced on all continents and by almost every human being; age-old distinctions between military and civilian populations were gradually obliterated. Decades after hostilities ended, psychological damage lingered, and the financial burden would fall on generations unborn when the war itself was waged. Well into the twenty-first century, books of fact and fiction would endeavor to explain how enlightened peoples could have drifted into such horror. For the writers, there would be no armistice.

This grim drama unfolded in an age when communication was becoming immediate and global and when reading materials of all types and qualities were at last available to almost everyone. The letters, notebooks, diaries, journalism, and official documents generated by the war provided historians an incomparable record, and thousands of poems, short stories, plays, and novels in the major languages provided corroborative testimony that spoke more directly to the masses of people. One of the chief results of this deluge of highly personal writing was the blurring of the distinction between reportage and fiction, along with the refinement of what has been called "documentary fiction."

The novel and poetry at their best, through the selection of strategic detail and the exploitation of the connotative power of words and images, create empathy and provide that expansion of experience rarely achieved by merely factual documents. Poets do not lie; rather, they probe for a higher truth. Yet Plato, who himself possessed the artistic imagination, warned against the poets. Their characteristic subject was "arms and the man," and their harrowing descriptions of combat, he feared, would make young men afraid to defend their lands. Since antiquity, major literary talents have taken war as their subject. Yet it seems strange at first that the most total war of all history, World War II, produced no War and Peace or even a Gone with the Wind to capture the public fancy as a defining epic. Although acclaimed poets expressed wartime sentiments and poetic controversies arose over the clash of ideologies, no single poem moved the masses the way the verses of Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen had done in World War I. The frustrations of the common soldier entangled in bureaucracy continued to provide black humor, yet no picaresque novel achieved the renown of Jaroslav Hasek's World War I classic, The Good Soldier Svejk.

No overriding myth stirred the literary artists in their struggles against fascism, nazism, and Japanese racism. This war was not fought to make the world safe for democracy. Neither was it believed to be a war to end all wars. After the surrenders, however, almost everyone agreed that the right side had prevailed. Nazi thugs and Japanese bullies had been defeated. British novelist Anthony Burgess pronounced the war a grim but necessary chore.

Even while books proliferated, another medium had captivated the masses with its portrayals of wartime courage and its later postwar celebration. The Hollywood films and, with more self-conscious seriousness, the French "New Wave Cinema" would effectively tell the story. Decades later, television's History Channel in the United States would take World War II as its special province.

U.S. Literature from World War II

The United States may have been the major winner, economically and culturally, of the war. The nation shed the cultural inferiority complex that had so long plagued it, as it became evident that it possessed not only an intact publishing industry but some of the most talented writers in the world. Almost alone among warring nations, the United States had been able to maintain the distinction between civilian and armed populations. In Europe, the strong emotions generated by ruined cities and ruined lives could not yet be contemplated in tranquility, but Americans could still experience emotions at some distance from the carnage. Even for U.S. servicemen, the war, despite its horrors, had remained a foreign adventure. The American postwar mood, unlike the existentialist malaise that spread through Europe, was optimistic. Soldiers returned home to resume their lives, start their families, and revitalize society.

The vitality of American fiction writers and their wartime inspiration were soon evident in Norman Mailer's The Naked and the Dead (1948), Irwin Shaw's The Young Lions (1948), and James Jones's From Here to Eternity (1951). These were bulky novels, with more attention to plot and theme than to stylistic finesse. Their milieu, described with as much gritty detail as the sensibilities of the period permitted, was intensely masculine. Female presence seemed unessential in the serious male business of warfare. The novels of Herman Wouk—conservative, old-fashioned books—were also widely read: The Caine Mutiny (1951), The Winds of War (1971), and War and Remembrance (1978) were later successfully filmed.

These books have frequently explored the ethnic intricacies of U.S. society under battle conditions. Thomas Heggen's Mister Roberts (1946) combined satire, humor, and serious themes in its study of the boredom of an assorted crew on a navy cargo ship. As late as 1986, Richard Wiley's novel Soldiers in Hiding placed Japanese American jazz musicians on tour in their ancestral land during the attack on Pearl Harbor. Stranded, they are forced to contend with conflicting loyalties while saving their lives.

In a gentler vein was James Michener's 1948 Tales of the South Pacific, more famous in the Rogers and Hammerstein musical adaptation, South Pacific. Against the backdrop of war in the Pacific, a U.S. Army nurse finds love with a courtly European gentleman. Readers also welcomed John Hersey's reassuring 1944 Pulitzer Prize winner, A Bell for Adano, about an American military governor's efforts to provide justice for a defeated people during the occupation of Sicily.

Several novels used the techniques of satire, fantasy, and surrealism to express their themes. Joseph Heller's Catch 22 (1961) was a cynical study of military bureaucracy. Gravity's Rainbow (1973) by Thomas Pynchon was a complicated compendium of wartime allusions, skillfully written but so obscure that it is frequently read with a commentary in hand. One of the most eccentric yet appealing books inspired by personal wartime experience was Kurt Vonnegut's 1969 novel, Slaughterhouse Five. Vonnegut had been a prisoner of war in a German slaughterhouse during the firebombing of Dresden, and the destruction of that stately city and its people continued to haunt him long after he returned home. His hero, the aptly named Billy Pilgrim, reacts to Dresden's destruction by becoming unhinged in time. Past, present, and future merge for him in a narrative that humorously and poignantly combines surrealism with images and clichés from science fiction.

American poets earnestly surveyed the war-torn world; to many of them, it was further proof of the wasteland modern life inhabited. T. S. Eliot, an American-born British citizen, recorded his reflections on the crisis in Four Quartets (1935–1942), the major work of his later years. His younger contemporary, W. H. Auden, an Englishman transplanted in the United States, embraced Christianity as the consolation and sole resolution of the disruptions of the war, rejecting his earlier reliance on Marx and Freud. Auden's collaboration with Christopher Isherwood in the early 1930s had already resulted in several provocative publications; Journey to a War had scrutinized Japan's invasion of China. Auden's later poetry was conditioned by his friendship with refugees from Nazi tyranny, and he even provided asylum for the daughter of writer Thomas Mann by marrying her. Two other major poets moved by the war were Randall Jarrell and Archibald MacLeish. Jarrell's experiences in the U.S. Army Air Forces led to a series of embittered poems entitled Little Friend, Little Friend, in 1945. MacLeish, who became librarian of Congress during the war years, composed a poetic drama, The Fall of the City (1937), as a parable of Adolf Hitler's rise to power.

The American literary establishment experienced a major embarrassment in the highly publicized case of Ezra Pound. From distinguished American lineage, Pound had earlier established himself as poet and mentor to a generation of serious American and British poets. In 1925, he had settled in Italy; by 1941, he was on Italian radio, broadcasting propaganda for his hero, Benito Mussolini. These public rants, increasingly anti-Semitic, continued after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Not surprisingly, on the liberation of Italy, Pound was taken into U.S. custody. In accusing him of treason, the government faced a dilemma. Does one pardon a notorious traitor whose crimes are public, or does one execute a man many believe to be the most important poet of his generation? The problem was evaded when Pound was declared insane and committed to a comfortable incarceration in St. Elizabeth's Hospital near Washington, D.C. There, he held court to his admirers and accepted awards. He was finally allowed to return to Italy, where he died in 1973.

British Literature from World War II

Unlike the United States, Britain endured the war at home as well as on the battlefield. Despite severe paper shortages and the disruptions of civilian life, quality writings appeared there throughout the period. Elizabeth Bowen and William Sanson wrote of hardships on the home front. A much loved novel of early wartime sacrifice was Jan Struther's Mrs. Miniver (1939), filmed by Hollywood in 1942 with an all-star cast headed by the elegant British actress Greer Garson, who projected a reassuring image of courageous domesticity. Vera Brittain, whose writing during World War I had been so moving, attempted unsuccessfully to repeat her earlier success with a melodramatic tale of shell shock and battle fatigue in Account Rendered (1944).

British novels after the war made vivid the range of situations the British people, often directly in the line of fire, had endured. Muriel Spark's The Prime of Miss Jean Brody (1961) was a story of Edinburgh school girls precariously mentored by their charismatic and misguided teacher. It explored the romantic fascination Mussolini exerted on the imaginations of repressed individuals of romantic temperament. Graham Greene, one of the eminent twentieth-century writers, told of an adulterous love conducted in the ruins of the Blitz in The End of the Affair (1951). Greene's descriptions of war-ravished Vienna in The Third Man (1950) had presented an ultimate picture of a great city in defeat, though the book was sometimes dismissed as a mere "entertainment." Evelyn Waugh's Men at Arms (1952) was the first part of a trilogy about an old British Catholic family swept up in military commitments. Mary Renault's The Charioteer (1953) introduced a topic daring for its decade, homosexuality among servicemen in a military hospital.

Two novels are sometimes identified as the outstanding British contributions to the literature of the war. Peter Towry's Trial by Battle (1959) described the experiences of a young British officer in Malaya during the Japanese advance. The distinguished critic Frank Kermode said it was "probably the best English novel to come out of the Second World War." Equally admired was J. G. Ballard's Empire of the Sun (1984), the fictionalized account of the author's own childhood experiences in occupied China.

Poems occasioned by the war were penned by major British poets. Those with the strongest international reputations were Stephen Spender and Dylan Thomas. A lesser-known collection of "soldier-poets" who were lost in battle or deeply scarred by their combat experiences were honored by the British. They included Alan Lewis, killed in Burma; Keith Douglas, who fell in Normandy; and Roy Fuller and Henry Reed, who survived but with bitter memories.

Soviet Literature from World War II

The Soviets were also victors in the war. Their incomparable reputation as writers of fiction had been well established by the end of the nineteenth century, and Count Leo Tolstoy's War and Peace ranks beside Homer's Iliad as an epical account of warfare. But during World War II, the Soviet Union's talented men and women of letters had been demoralized by German invaders and inhibited by the harsh regime of Josef Stalin. Whatever censorship they might face, a number of Soviet citizens were still committed to serving with their pens "the holy cause" of the homeland. Ilia Ehrenburg's The Fall of Paris (1942) was written to inspire Soviets to avoid the fate of the French, whereas Mikhail Sholokhov's The Science of Hatred (1942) protested German brutality toward Soviet children, women, and common soldiers. Konstantin Simonov's Days and Nights (1945) praised the heroic Soviet defense of Stalingrad, as would Vasily Grossman's later novel, Life and Fate (1980). Vera Panova's The Train (1946) vividly detailed the treatment of the wounded and dying on a Soviet hospital train, related with a warmth and compassion that echoes nineteenth-century Russian fiction. Unforgettable was Anatoli Kuznetsov's Babi Yar (1967), a "documentary novel" about the murder of 200,000 Soviet Jews outside Kiev in 1941. This episode had also inspired a poem by Yevgeny Yevtushenko in 1962.

German Literature from World War II

It has been said that military histories are written by the victorious. In World War II, however, the losers were often as eloquent as the victors. German writers, at home and in exile, recorded their experiences in journals and novels, with a soul-searching that only intensified with the end of hostilities. Within Germany and Austria, the Nazis had sought to control all artists, and many established German-language writers—such as Thomas Mann, Anna Seghers, Franz Werfel, Robert Musil, and Hermann Broch—had sought early exile from the regime. After the war, other voices could also be more freely raised. Stefan Heym, author of The Crusaders (1948), may have been the youngest of the literary dissidents; later, he became a mentor to other middle and east European writers. Bruno Erich Werner's 1949 novel, The Slave Ship, was one of the most powerful statements from any party to the war. It identified Nazi-controlled Germany as the "slave ship" of its title. Erich Maria Remarque, who had made his reputation writing about World War I, did not achieve the same success with Spark of Life (1952), about starving victims of Nazi concentration camps. By this time, Remarque was well settled in Hollywood and married to a movie star, and he seemed to possess less credibility. Henrich Boll's Adam, Where Art Thou? (1955) dealt with the disintegration of Germany and an army demoralized in defeat. In Dog Days (1963), Günter Grass handed readers another scathing if surrealistic vision of the Hitler years.

Although German atrocities were freely acknowledged in these books, the courage and skill of the German fighting man was not slighted. Theodor Plievier, as early as 1948, had presented the siege of Stalingrad from the viewpoint of German soldiers. In Stalingrad: The Death of an Army, young Germans endure freezing cold, lack of adequate food, and the onset of disease, eventually perishing alone and far from home. In Arrow to the Heart (1950), Albrecht Goes told the story of a German army chaplain sent to attend the execution of a compatriot in the Ukraine in the early years of the Soviet Campaign. Willi Heinrich's The Cross of Iron (1956) provided another classic portrayal of endurance; a German platoon on the Eastern Front stoically accepts hardship and prepares for death.

Italian Literature from World War II

It is widely believed, in Italy as elsewhere, that the Italians were halfhearted in their pursuit of the war. Many Italian intellectuals had refused to serve the Fascist cause. Luigi Pirandello, the most famous writer in Italy, had attempted to avoid political entanglements and write his plays and stories in peace, even while accepting Mussolini's patronage. He died in 1936 and was thus spared the bitter decisions other writers had to make, and his reputation accordingly survived intact. Giuseppi Ungaretti and Salvatore Quasimodo continued writing their poetry, trying to serve a higher calling than that of Mussolini, whereas Cesare Pavese and Umbarto Saba were keenly anti-Fascist. Ignazio Silone's Bread and Wine, written from Swiss exile and first published in 1937, was a powerful indictment of the Fascist regime and its destructive influence on the Italian character.

Whatever their politics, Italian writers were always best at showing the war's effects on the poor and oppressed; they had less interest in writing about military successes or defeats. Possibly the most widely translated Italian novelist of wartime reflection was Alberto Moravia. His 1958 novel, Two Women, followed the struggles of a mother and daughter in Rome during the final year of the war. The women suffer at the hands of their Italian compatriots, are further oppressed by the occupying Germans, and finally are ill treated by Allied liberators. Elsa Morante's History: A Novel (1974) described life in the Roman slums during the German occupation and the plight of a half-Jewish widow seeking to survive and protect her family. A number of other women writers came to prominence in Italy during this period. Natalia Ginsburg, who was Jewish Italian, was one of the most talented.

Japanese Literature from World War II

World War II was, of course, fought on two major fronts. It is possible that the people who suffered most among all the contending parties were the Japanese. Although the novel, as it is known in the West, was an import to their islands, Japanese writers quickly demonstrated their genius of adaptation. Their fiction is fast finding a broader audience. The best-known World War II novel from the Japanese point of view remains Sholei Ooka's Fires on the Plain (1957). It described the emotional collapse of a brave warrior who first witnesses his country's disintegration and realizes that he is no longer sustained by national myth. After he becomes a prisoner of the Americans, he acknowledges the futility of all sacrifices in war.

Akira Yoshimjara's powerful novel One Man's Justice, though originally published in 1978, did not become available in English translation until early in the twenty-first century. Though it contained no mention of Pearl Harbor or the atrocities committed by the Japanese against the Chinese and other peoples who fell under their control, it movingly captured the thoughts and emotions of its hero, a Japanese soldier. On the run from a U.S. military tribunal, the soldier feels no guilt for having beheaded an American prisoner of war after the end of hostilities. He has witnessed the sufferings of Hiroshima and does not believe Americans have the moral authority to judge him. They have exterminated his countrymen "as if they were vermin" and, he learns, listened to jazz while returning from their murderous bombing raids.

Considering the magnitude of the event, there are relatively few fictional treatments of the beginning of the atomic age and the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Perhaps more time must pass before these events can be confronted. One well-known novel is, however, based on diaries and interviews with survivors of Hiroshima. This is Masuji Ibuse's Black Rain (1985). Although individual sections are powerful, the book—in its piling up of horrors—illustrates the aesthetic problems of journalism too immediately and directly transmuted into fiction.

The implications of the bomb have been left largely to the futuristic fiction writers. The most provocative books have been Neville Shute's On the Beach (1957) and Walter M. Miller's A Canticle for Leibowitz (1960). In Shute's novel, the Australian nation awaits, in a matter of days or weeks, the coming of the radiation that has already destroyed the rest of humanity. Miller describes a monastic society of the future that retains a faint memory of the civilization that has been destroyed, as it starts laboriously to rebuild.

Occupation Literature

Occupation literature, with its profound sense of violation, comprises another major category of World War II fiction. During the German occupation of France, film, theater, and literature flourished, sometimes in open collaboration with the oppressor and at other times with cryptic anti-Nazi messages. As a result of the German curfew, the urban French became avid readers, and copies of Paul Eluard's resistance poem "Liberté" were dropped by the thousands into occupied France by the Royal Air Force. Wartime Pilot (1942), by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, was a poetic narrative of wartime missions, based on the author's adventures as a pioneer aviator. The book, which found special favor with the subjugated French, has been called "the odyssey of the skies."

After the liberation of France, there was freedom to reflect on the national humiliation. Simone de Beauvoir's The Blood of Others (1948) placed ill-fated lovers adrift in wartime France. Henri Troyat's 1958 novel, The Encounter, examined the German occupation through the eyes of a woman who kept a music shop and loved American jazz. Jean Paul Sartre's Troubled Sleep (1959) tried to suggest reasons for the ignoble capitulation of France. The short stories, novels, and plays of both Sartre and Albert Camus—and the existentialist philosophy they expressed—were likewise products of occupation and experiences of the Resistance. But perhaps the most curiously disturbing French writer during the period was Louis-Ferdinand Céline, who vacillated between admiration for and abhorrence of Hitler, between French patriotism and denunciation of his countrymen. Céline first made his reputation with his descriptions of the London underworld during World War I, and his last important works, Castle to Castle (1957) and North (1960), described the Nazi nightmare world that France became in the war.

The best-loved World War II novel from a French writer was Pierre Boulle's The Bridge on the River Kwai (1954), with its generally admiring view of the professionalism of British servicemen, its exploration of the moral ambiguities of wartime, and the humor and irony with which it examined relationships between Japanese officers and British prisoners of war.

World War II Literature of Other Countries

Of the many war novels written in the less widely known languages of participants, several have been translated and merit mention. Tage Skou-Hansen's The Naked Trees, translated from Danish and first published in 1959, was a love story from occupied Denmark. The best-known Finnish novel from the war was Paavo Rintala's The Long Distance Patrol (1967), detailing the experiences of Finnish soldiers caught between two oppressors, the Soviets and the Germans. A powerful Dutch novel was Hugo Claus's The Sorrows of Belgium (1990), which viewed the trauma of a complex society in wartime and the collaboration of certain Flemish nationalists with invading Nazis.

Two Czech novels that have received international acclaim are Josef Bor's The Therezin Requiem (1963) and Bohumil Hrabal's Closely Watched Trains (1968). Bor fictionalized an actual event, performances of Verdi's Requiem for an audience of Nazi officials, including the notorious Adolf Eichmann. The musicians, all prisoners of the Theresienstadt camp, were exterminated after their last concert. Hrabal's novel pictured life in a small, depleted Czech village in the last days of the occupation.

Other East European writers have left unique records. Constantin V. Gheorghiu's Twenty-Fifth Hour (1950) was a grimly picaresque tale of the misadventures of a Romanian peasant held for 13 years in different work camps, caught up in the various bureaucracies, and perplexed in turn by fascists, communists, and democratic governments. Another Romanian novel of note was Zaharia Stancu's The Gypsy Tribe (1971), which took as its grim subject the Nazi persecution of Romany peoples.

The Polish writer Monika Kotowska, in The Bridge to the Other Side (1963), provided a sensitive rendering of the sufferings of children during the war and its aftermath. The better-known Polish novelist Stanislaw Lem employed the image of a mental hospital to convey the insanity of the Nazi subjugation of Poland in Hospital of the Transfiguration (1975).

Istvan Orkeng, a Hungarian, wrote The Toth Family (1966), a black comedy indicting the general compliance of his countrymen with nazism. Danilo Kis's Hourglass (1984) displayed a Kafkaesque world on the multiethnic borders of Hungary and Yugoslavia, where suicide, murder, and instant disappearance became mundane events.

The most acclaimed Serbo-Croatian novel was Miodrag Bulatovic's A Hero on a Donkey (1965), set in Montenegro under the Italian Fascist military presence. With a lighter touch, Bulatovic reinforced the common perception that an Italian occupation was the least of many possible misfortunes. Statis Tsirkas's Drifting Cities (1974) was the most notable Greek novel of the war, with its mysterious locales of Cairo, Jerusalem, and Alexandria and its celebration of the Greek struggle against both fascism and communism.

Two books with special exotic appeal came from Indonesia and Iran, respectively. Ismail Marahimin's And the War Is Over (1977) was set in fabled Sumatra, among Dutch prisoners of the Japanese. The book won the highest literary prize offered by Indonesia. Savushun: A Novel of Modern Iran (1969) by Simin Daneshvar described Iran during English and Soviet occupations. Although protection of the oil fields is the official concern, one simple family struggles to maintain honor and dignity, despite disease, famine, and the assassination of their patriarch. The book was also notable for its feminine point of view; it was the work of an accomplished Iranian woman novelist.

Holocaust Literature

One subgenre of World War II literature that has grown to immense proportions and is still expanding is Holocaust writing. Most of this literature is thinly fictionalized memoir; its motive is "lest we forget" and its message "I alone survive as witness." Of all the atrocities of the bloody twentieth century, the one that stands out most vividly in the Western collective memory, thanks to the creative writers as much as to the historians, is the extinction by the Nazis of two-thirds of the Jewish population of Europe. The Diary of Anne Frank has so captured public attention that its author is now one of the four or five most famous women of all time. Though the diary was a factual report, a coming-of-age memoir of years in hiding from the Nazis, it was artistically formed and bore the marks of an emerging literary talent. Elie Weisel's Night (1960) and Tadeusz Borowski's "This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen" and other stories (1948) were further examples of strong personal narrative formed by the techniques of fiction. Weisel, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, may be the most famous Holocaust survivor. Though Borowski was not Jewish, he was a prisoner at Auschwitz, and until his untimely death by his own hand after the war, he was a rising star of Polish letters.

Other notable Holocaust writings were not by survivors but by talented novelists who had lived among survivors. The Shawl and Rosa (1989) were admirably crafted novelettes by Cynthia Ozick, who wrote almost exclusively of Jewish subjects and themes. William Styron's Sophie's Choice (1979) was another much discussed and debated novel about survival from Auschwitz, though neither Styron nor his heroine was Jewish.

Juvenile Literature from World War II

Juvenile literature, too, has felt the impact of World War II. No feature of the conflict has been ignored in the hundreds of fictional books now available for youth. Combat, ghettos, concentration campus, home front concerns, and the war's aftermath have all been examined. With a vision more complex and cosmopolitan than could be found in earlier juvenile fiction, the postwar books tried to teach tolerance for all people, the necessity of compassion, and the lesson that war is tragedy rather than adventure. The books, despite their new realism, retained the moralistic messages children's literature has long conveyed.

Juvenile series books, usually churned out by a writing syndicate under a host of pen names, have for decades engaged children with vicarious adventures, even while they dismayed teachers and librarians. During World War II, Helen Wells took Cherry Ames, her nurse heroine, into jungle tents and military barracks of the South Pacific, as well as conventional military hospitals, in Cherry Ames, Army Nurse, Cherry Ames, Chief Nurse, and Cherry Ames, Senior Nurse, all published in 1944.

Juvenile books have always attempted to help children understand people in foreign lands. V. F. H. Visser's Gypsy Courier (1964), translated from the Dutch, was the story of a 15-year-old Romany boy who delivers messages for the Polish underground and becomes a skilled saboteur of German records. Petros' War (1971), translated from the Greek of Alki Zei, showed the plight of a 10-year-old Greek child confronting both Italian and German enemies. An especially reassuring tale was Betty Green's The Summer of My German Soldier (1973), in which a Jewish girl living in the American South befriends a young German prisoner of war, bringing down the wrath of both her family and community.

The animal story is a staple of juvenile books, and both the heroism and suffering of animals in wartime provide gripping reading. Poor Elephants: A Sad Story of Animals and People and War (1979), by Yukio Tasuchiya, was an account of starving elephants in the Tokyo Zoo, when there was no longer food for them or even the means to euthanize them. Renni the Rescuer (1940) related the adventures of a dog who rescued the wounded on the battlefield. It was written by Felix Salten, the beloved creator of Bambi.

Popular Fiction, Science Fiction, and Fantasy

Popular fiction, which strives primarily to entertain and sometimes to propagandize, also went to war. Frank G. Slaughter, who had given up medical practice to write medical thrillers that entertained people all over the world, moved into the war zone with Air Surgeon (1943) and Battle Surgeon (1944). In Britain and the United States, Barbara Cartland, Eric Ambler, Agatha Christie, Leslie Charteris, and Mignon Eberhart were among popular writers who found an ultimate background to adventure in the war. As late as the 1980s, Elliot Roosevelt, the son of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, published A Family Matter, in collaboration with Sam Toperoff. Although it had no apparent basis in fact, the book postulated a scheme by which Roosevelt would share manhattan Project secrets with the Soviets in exchange for their help in defeating Japan. Not to be outdone by his brother, James Roosevelt, who fancied himself a writer of detective fiction, initiated the Eleanor Roosevelt mystery series, which transformed his mother into a Miss Marple–style detective. In The White House Pantry Murder, published in 1987 but set in the 1940s, Eleanor uncovers a Nazi assassination plot in the White House itself.

The genre of science fiction and fantasy, which was the best-selling category in paperback fiction by the 1980s, has also mirrored the themes and concerns of the war. Alternate history or "what-if?" books have been especially provocative. What if the Allies had been unsuccessful and the world had been left to the devices of the Germans and the Japanese? Three notable books outlined a future in which Hitler did win the war: Philip K. Dick's The Man in the High Castle (1962), Robert Harris's Fatherland (1992), and John Barnes's Finity (2000). Henry Turtledove went a step further into the stratosphere, injecting an alien invasion from outer space into the European war in his curious Worldwar: Striking the Balance (1997). Perhaps the scariest work of the science fiction genre, which does not seem so far-fetched at the beginning of the twenty-first century, was Ira Levin's The Boys from Brazil (1976), in which the notorious Nazi medical researcher Josef Mengele survives in a South American jungle laboratory and produces multiple clones of Hitler to send forth to adoptive parents throughout the world as little boys. Even more bizarre was Roland Puccetti's 1972 nightmare fantasy, The Death of the Führer. Hitler's brain is extracted by a Nazi scientist and placed in the body of an unidentified person who is pledged to resurrect the collapsing Reich. Nazi hunters, learning of the feat, begin a search-and-destroy mission. The Brain turns out to be housed in the body of a voluptuous woman, who reveals her secret to a Jewish Nazi hunter she has bedded in the moment of erotic climax.

Hitler's place as supervillain of a villainous century seems secure in the popular imagination. Fictionalized biographies, works of acknowledged fiction, and unauthenticated tabloid exposés have assured him this status. Bogus Hitler diaries have appeared, and so great is the thirst for Hitler information that reputable historians and major news magazines have been fooled. Books purporting to be by or about an alleged wife or daughter have attracted the curious. The Führer's suicide in his Berlin bunker was barely reported before a barrage of quasi-pornographic writings started appearing, detailing the secrets of his love chambers or reporting sightings of him throughout the world.

The vast literature—whether good, mediocre, or downright silly—that has already been spawned by World War II could not be digested in a single lifetime. And a stream of it continues. Although the many journalistic documents of war on two major fronts leave priceless resources for historians, the creative writers have left posterity equally valuable records of the thoughts and feelings of lives forever changed by this global calamity.

Allene Phy-Olsen


Further Reading
Bergonzi, Bernard. Wartime and Aftermath: English Literature and Its Background, 1939–60. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993.; Burgess, Anthony. The Novel Now: A Guide to Contemporary Fiction. New York: W. W. Norton, 1970.; Harris, Frederick J. Encounters with Darkness: French and German Writers on World War II. New York: Oxford University Press, 1983.; Langer, Lawrence, ed. Art from Ashes: A Holocaust Anthology. New York: Oxford University Press, 1995.; Rosenfeld, Alvin H. Imagining Hitler. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1985.; Taylor, Desmond. The Novels of World War II: An Annotated Bibliography. 2 vols. New York: Garland Publishing, 1993.; Taylor, Desmond. The Juvenile Novels of World War II: An Annotated Bibliography. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1994.; Walsh, Jeffrey. American War Literature, 1914 to Vietnam. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1982.
 

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