Adult Fiction

Important American cargo ships made treacherous voyages: This painting by American artist Thornton Oakley shows a U.S. cargo ship unloading scrap materials -- indicating both Nazi and U.S. air force losses -- to be recycled. In the background, more ships wait. Cargo ships carried food, ammunition, clothing, guns, and troops. These U.S. merchant vessels came in all sizes and were outfitted with cranes for loading and unloading. They were subject to destruction by mines, battleships, bombers, submarines, and kamikaze attacks. During the war, 733 cargo ships were lost and more than 5,000 U.S. merchant seamen were killed.


World War II gave rise to a new boom in contemporary war novels. Unlike World War I novels, a European-dominated genre, World War II novels were produced in the greatest numbers by American writers, who made war in the air, on the sea, and in key theaters such as the Pacific Ocean and Asia integral to the war novel.

Among the most successful American war novels were Herman Wouk's The Caine Mutiny, James Jones's From Here to Eternity, and Hemingway's For Whom the Bell Tolls, the latter a novel set in the Spanish Civil War. An exception to American writers was Pierre Boulle's Le Pont de la rivière Kwaï (1952- The Bridge on the River Kwai) He served as a secret agent under the name Peter John Rule and helped the resistance movement in China, Burma and French Indochina. More experimental and unconventional works in the post-war period included Joseph Heller's satirical Catch-22 and Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow, an early example of postmodernism. Norman Mailer's The Naked and the Dead, Irwin Shaw's The Young Lions and James Jones' The Thin Red Line, all explore the personal nature of war within the context of intense combat.

The decades following World War II period also saw the rise in significant parallel genres to the war novel. One is the Holocaust novel, of which A.M. Klein's The Second Scroll, Primo Levi's If Not Now, When?, and William Styron's Sophie's Choice are key examples.  Another is the novel of internment or persecution (other than in the Holocaust), in which characters find themselves imprisoned or deprived of their civil rights as a direct result of war. Alexander Solzhenitsyn's One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich (about imprisonment in a Russian labor camp), and Joy Kogawa's Obasan (about Canada's deportation and internment of its citizens of Japanese descent during WWII) are two examples of novels that address war from alternative perspectives.