Top 10: Emotional War Books for Remembrance Day

November 10, 2017

Tomorrow is Remembrance Day, where we reflect on the sacrifices past and present Armed Forces members make, and the horrors of war inflicted on soldiers and civilians alike. For your Remembrance Day reading, we’ve rounded up 10 war books that will make you feel things.

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Welcome to All Lit Up’s Top 10 – a literary list of ten things we’re thinking about right now.


10. “National Moments” and Collective Memories

Vern Thiessen’s award-winning play Vimy (Playwrights Canada Press), following four Canadians stationed in a French field hospital, unpacks how we couch national identity in collective memories of conflict – and what it means for those who have personal memories that don’t match up with the national narrative.


9. Children in Wartime

Children’s book Hurricanes over London by Charles Reid (Ronsdale Press) sees main character Jaime assisting the Calgary Aerospace Museum in recreating a Hurricane bomber jet, but we’re still reeling from his discovery of his grandfather’s diary, detailing the deaths of his friends during the bombing of London.




8. The Pacific Theatre

Michael Kaan’s Governor General’s Literary Award-nominated novel The Water Beetles (Goose Lane Editions) is about those surviving military invasion; in this case, the invasion of Hong Kong by the Empire of Japan. Youngest child Chung-Man is forced into hiding away from the rest of the Leung family, and his traumas resound throughout the rest of his postwar life.


7. Prejudice in the Military

If you saw the award-winning movie The Imitation Game, you already know a bit about Alan Turing: the brilliant World War II codebreaker who, in those intolerant times, could live as a gay man only in secret. The Lambda-nominated translation of The Case of Alan Turing (Arsenal Pulp Publishers) dives deeper into Turing’s contributions during and beyond the war, as well as his tragic persecution at the hands of a homophobic state.




6. Bloody Battlefields

Canadian military historian Norman Leach annotates this illustrated history of the Battles of Ypres, Passchendaele (Coteau Books). After earning several military victories, the Canadian army of World War I was put to task in Passchendaele, a hellish battle where the unfathomable number of 16,000 soldiers were lost to artillery, chlorine gas, and drowning.


5. Distant Loved Ones

Matthew Murphy’s acclaimed debut A Beckoning War (Baraka Books) follows protagonist Captain Jim MacFarlane on the Italian front lines in 1944, stuck between trying to find meaning in meaningless violence and commanding his rattled company, his only lifeline the sporadic letters from his wife back home.




4. Bystander Sympathy

While many turned their backs on their Jewish neighbours at the onset of Nazi persecution, some quietly moved to support them, like the Polish characters in Renate Krakauer’s Only By Blood (Inanna Publications). Daughter Mania is left to explore her mother’s Krystyna’s past and find the lost family members that the war scattered far from their home.


3. Robbed Innocence

The third of Frank Davey’s war collections, Back to the War (Talonbooks) is an introspective book of poems that witness the horrors of the Second World War as experienced through the poet’s everyday life of his childhood. 


2. Life after War Prison

The “promises” of war attracted many young men to the front – sometimes lying about their age to do so – and Freddy McKee, the main character of Judy Schultz’s  Freddy’s War (Brindle & Glass) is no exception. Captured during the siege of Hong Kong in 1941, Freddy’s enthusiasm turns to trauma and pain, and as he is finally freed, he’s sent back to a Canada that is all too happy to forget.


1. First-hand Witness

RCAF airman Glen Hancock wrote the memoir Charley Goes to War (Gaspereau Press) about his experiences in training and overseas during World War II. This largely honest and humorous book is not without its share of darkness: Hancock’s memories of visiting Belsen concentration camp immediately after its 1945 liberation haunt the pages and the reader, both.


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