“You don’t have to play masculine to be a strong woman.” — Mary Elizabeth Winstead
“Wars do not make men great, but they do bring out the greatness in good men,” said Major Dick Winters. I would argue that the same can be said for great women, in real life and in fiction, as evidenced by the fiction and nonfiction women in the following books:
A Woman’s Place by Lynn Austin
Lynn Austin is a genius at creating believable characters with intricate histories. And she does it again in A Woman’s Place, a novel about four women who become friends when they all work together at a naval shipyard during WWII.
The women range from a young, passionate newly-married girl to a former stay-at-home-mom risking her husband’s disapproval to spend a few hours contributing to the war effort, to a wealthy and secretive older woman who joins the shipyard for reasons of her own.
As the four get to know each other while learning to do their jobs, their individual backstories and personalities are revealed bit by bit as they see each other through the roughest times of the war.
It’s hard to describe this book in a way that does it justice. Suffice to say that if you’ve ever read any of Lynn Austin’s other historical fiction, this one will definitely not disappoint. Highly recommended for fans of women’s fiction, WWII, with a dash of humor and a whole lot of heart.
In My Hands by Irene Gut Updike
“If we were stopped and questioned, I always smiled at the officers, and they always smiled back. In my heart, I was seeing them dead. But on my face, I was an open invitation. If you are only a girl, this is how you destroy your enemies.” — In My Hands
In My Hands is the true story of a courageous young Catholic Polish girl who sacrificed everything she had to save a group of Jews during the Nazi invasion of Poland…by hiding said Jews in a Nazi officer’s house!
The audacity, the tragedy of this story is like something out of a Hollywood movie, it’s hard to believe it’s real, but as they say, sometimes “truth is stranger than fiction.”
Co-author Jennifer Armstrong tracked Irene Updike down when Irene was in her 80s, and spent several days with the woman, hearing her story and taking notes to write this book. From working as a nurse, to being forcibly separated from her family, to running away and ending up working in a Nazi hotel, to meeting Jewish Poles, to coming up with a crazy plan to save her new friends’ lives by creating a hiding place for them in her boss’ house, Irene seems to have lived several lifetimes in a few short years.
If you’re interested in true stories of mind-bogglingly courageous individuals, Holocaust rescuers, give this book a try.
The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom
Another famous Holocaust Rescuer, Corrie Ten Boom, tells her story in The Hiding Place. Corrie, a Dutch Resistance member, with her father and sister, hid refugee Jews in a secret room in their house until they were betrayed by a man who they thought was their friend.
The Ten Booms were taken to a concentration camp, where Corrie’s father, and later sister, passed away. But during their stay in the camps, Corrie and her sister became a source of comfort and encouragement to their fellow inmates, drawing on their deep faith to keep their spirits in the face of tremendous suffering.
The Hiding Place is Corrie’s biography of life before, during, and after her experience in the camps. The title of the book has a double meaning, both referring to the literal hiding place where the Ten Booms hid their Jewish friends, as well as to a verse in Psalm 119: “You are my hiding place…”
Corrie Ten Boom is one of those rare human beings who not only faced suffering with grace, but emerged from the experience without becoming bitter or jaded or traumatized and incapacitated. The tragedies she went through are beyond words, as so many tragedies during that time were, but Corrie Ten Boom later emerged from the war to continue her father and sister’s legacy of healing, creating a home for people damaged by the way (victims AND perpetrators) to rest and recover.
Her story is definitely worth reading!
All Things New by Lynn Austin
“Bitterness is one of the deadliest emotions we ever feel. You can’t look forward when you’re bitter, only backward — thinking about what you’ve lost, stuck in the past, despairing because it’s gone. In the end, it devours all hope.”— All Things New
We wrap up this list with one more entry by Lynn Austin. What can I say? The woman is a genius at writing wartime historical fiction, or rather, in this case, post-wartime historical fiction.
All Things New tells the story of a Southern family trying to recover during the aftermath of the war. Main character Josephine is tired of the devastation and destruction of the Civil War and just wants to get on with her life. She is close friends with her families former-slaves-now-freedmen and promotes the education of their children.
Unfortunately for Josephine, most of the residents in her town aren’t so quick to forgive and forget. Not to mention, her advocacy for education former slaves draws the ire of even the people closest to her.
Luckily for Josephine, an unexpected ally arrives in the form of Alexander, a Northerner who heads the newly established Freedman’s Bureau in her town. But Josephine’s enemies are after Alexander as well, and the losers of the Civil War aren’t ready to lay down their arms just yet…Not to mention that as Josephine tries to rebuild her life and live according to her values, she discovers devastating family secrets that could change everything.
As you can see, All Things New is another story that’s difficult to summarize in just a few words. Josephine is a stellar character (maybe slightly too-good-to-be-true, I’ll concede, but it’s forgivable), and Austin does a fantastic job of portraying the difficulty of Reconstruction. After all, the Civil War cost thousands of lives, traumatized a generation of survivors, and broke apart families. Even after it officially ended, the healing didn’t always take place right away.
This book describes those post-war difficulties from the perspective of those who lost the war, but also weaves in heart, humor, and hope. If you’re a fan of Civil War era historical fiction, this book is for you 🙂