The Caine Mutiny by Herman Wouk and The Naked and the Dead by Norman Mailer are two of the most famous and critically acclaimed novels of WWII, and deservedly so. The Caine Mutiny is a good character study of military figures. Naked is the epic journey of a platoon’s attempt to complete a futile task( I flash back to this book whenever mowing my yard). Much less famous, but winning the Pulitzer prize like Caine Mutiny, is James Gould Cozzens’ Guard of Honor. The novel covers three days on an Army Air Force base in Florida in 1943 and examines the characters of men who are, or will be, military leaders. James Jones’ The Thin Red Line is a fictional account of the Guadalcanal campaign which Jones experienced firsthand.
On the other side of the globe, Irwin Shaw’s The Young Lions follows two Americans and one German soldier on their different routes through the European campaign to their inevitable meeting near the end of the war. A big fan of Shaw’s, Kurt Vonnegut, has his own entry in the genre with Slaughter-house 5, a very personal, fantastical rendering of the fire-bombing of Dresden. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller continues with a satirical account of airmen based on an island outside Italy and their constant battle with military red-tape and bureaucracy.
Recently returned to the ICPL collection, History : A Novel by Elsa Morante is set in Rome during the war years(1941-1947). It follows Ida, a schoolteacher, and her 2 boys and a dog as they struggle to survive in the turmoil that was Europe during WWII. Unlike Norman Mailer’s The Naked and the Dead and James Jones’ The Thin Red Line, Morante reveals the horrors of war from a non-military perspective with a prose style that, despite the hunger and fear of being poor and powerless while living in an occupied country, quietly celebrates the human spirit.