World War II in books and films

Here’s September 1 one day late: September 1, 1939, written by WH Auden in New York when Germany invaded Poland, starting the Second World War.

The war produced epic novels and movies. Casablanca was made in 1942, the year America joined the war after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour. Brief Encounter was made in 1945, From Here to Eternity in 1953.

The war produced authors like Norman Mailer and James Jones. The Naked and the Dead by Mailer, published in 1948, and From Here to Eternity by Jones, which won the 1952 National Book Award for fiction, are probably two of the most acclaimed World War II novels. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller, first published in 1961, was probably even more successful.

I enjoyed Catch-22 hugely. But now if I were to read any of the war novels again, I would choose Captain Corelli’s Mandolin by Louis de Bernieres, published in 1993. Rich in humour and character, with its idyllic descriptions of Greece, it is a great love story.

Another novel I would like to pick up again is The English Patient, the 1992 Booker Prize winner by Michael Ondaatje. I did not enjoy it as much as Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, but this is the book I was thinking of when I was reminded yesterday by the BBC that September 1 was the day Germany invaded Poland in 1939. A SparkNotes synopsis of The English Patient certainly suggests an interesting story.

The English Patient, Captain Correlli’s Mandolin, Catch-22, From Here to Eternity were all successful movies. So was Atonement, by Ian McEwan, another wonderful novel, published in 2001. The publication dates show the Second World War continues to inspire writers.

Alan Furst, of course, has made a speciality of writing World War II thrillers. I loved The Spies of Warsaw, published in 2008.

William Boyd also wrote an excellent thriller based on the war: Restless, published in 2006, which won the Costa Prize.

And let’s not forget Empire of the Sun, about wartime Shanghai, by JG Ballard, who died in April 2009. That was filmed by Steven Spielberg.

I, of course, love The Singapore Grip by JG Farrell because of its memorable descriptions of Singapore.

One of my favourite novels which is partly set in the Second World War is The Glass Palace by Amitav Ghosh. Describing wartime Singapore, Malaysia and Burma, this is an epic novel which deserves to be filmed.

One bestseller I particularly enjoyed back in my school or college days was Battle Cry by Leon Uris.

The Second World War has inspired countless films. I enjoyed The Bridge on the River Kwai, Von Ryan’s Express,  The Great Escape, Casablanca, From Here to Eternity, The Guns of Navarone, Stalag 17, The Longest Day, To Hell and Back, 633 Squadron, Patton, Battle of the Bulge, The Heroes of Telemark, The Dirty Dozen, The Sea Wolves, Escape to Victory, Tora! Tora! Tora!, Schindler’s List, to name only a few.

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