by Brian Lynch
With each passing year, the Second World War slips further from living memory. Still, its effects are felt every day—not as faint echoes but as forces shaping virtually every aspect of our reality. Reflecting on that cataclysm is as much about recognizing where we are now as it is about paying respects to a vanished era. Spending time with the books below will only sharpen this sense.
Drawn from the front lines
As Remembrance Day nears, readers may be curious about the lived history behind all the symbols and ceremonies. But how to capture an event as enormous as World War II in one book—and in a way that doesn’t simply rattle off dates and names but instead brings the human drama to life? One example is Canada at War, a graphic novel by author Paul Keery and illustrator Michael Wyatt that encompasses the nation’s wartime role in just 176 stirring pages. Driven by sharply drawn imagery, the story opens during Hitler’s rise to power and then moves swiftly through the many challenges, hardships and victories of Canada’s war effort, from early defeats in Hong Kong and Dieppe to the dangers of protecting Atlantic supply chains, and on through D-Day and the liberation of the Netherlands. The violence of these years is never downplayed but is rather suggested in powerful silhouettes.Canada at War is an experience that will likely stay with readers long after they’ve moved on to explore the library of other works on this vast topic.
Tragedies and turning points
Moving from overview to intense detail brings us to the work of Victoria, BC’s Mark Zuehlke, an acclaimed historian whose Canadian Battle Series occupies a shelf of its own. In each of the many volumes in the series, Zuehlke uses his formidable research and storytelling skills to focus on crucial facets of Canadian involvement in the Second World War. Ranging from the conference room to the battlefield, Tragedy at Dieppe offers a harrowing account of the ill-fated 1942 raid that proved to be Canada’s costliest day of the conflict. A trilogy about D-Day—Juno Beach, Holding Juno and Breakout From Juno—blends official records and personal diaries to map out the nation’s contribution to the war’s turning point, beginning with the moment when Canadian paratroopers landed on target, among the first Allied soldiers to arrive. The Cinderella Campaign recounts the desperate mission of the First Canadian Army to open Channel ports in Belgium during the push toward Germany, all while struggling to reach supply lines and running up against fierce, heavily fortified resistance. With the other installments in the series, these form a kind of epic of courage, loss and endurance, one that has been recognized with the Governor General’s History Award for Popular Media.