“The Book Thief” by Markus Zusak
I don’t think I can recommend a book more than I recommend “The Book Thief.” The story opens with Liesel Meminger, the leading lady, putting her brother in a grave, when suddenly, she discovers “The Gravedigger’s Handbook,” and from there starts her career of book theft. She becomes obsessed with reading, and as her foster father teaches her to read her stolen goods, the world around them crumbles from war. Jews are being persecuted, and when Liesel’s foster family takes in a Jew, her world is indefinitely changed.
This book is ridiculously depressing in the best way possible. The story is narrated by the character Death. The characters are refreshing in their messy humanity. This is probably my personal top on the list and I recommend it for anyone looking for a creative yet humanistic perspective on the holocaust.
“Night” by Elie Wiesel
I didn’t think it was humanly possible to cry as much as I did when reading “Night.” Following the true story of the author’s time in a concentration camp, this story narrates the loss of family, dignity and the will to live. This book has everything, and I mean everything, that happened during Elie Wiesel’s time inside. If you are looking for nonfiction that doesn’t shy away from the details, this book will truly allow you to see from the perspective of someone who really did live through the Holocaust.
“Boy in the Striped Pajamas” by John Boyne
A staple of Holocaust literature since it was first published in 2006, “Boy in the Striped Pajamas” follows a fictional German boy named Bruno, who, when his Commander father get his family uprooted right next door to a concentration camp, befriends a boy named Shmuel who is on the the other side of the fence. Written from a child’s perspective, readers slowly see Bruno’s realization at what past the fence and what his father truly does. If you’re looking for an introduction into Holocaust literature, “Boy in the Striped Pajamas” deals with a heavy subject in a lighter manner than some of the other literature on this list.
“Refugee” by Alan Gratz
I don’t think Alan Gratz is capable of writing a bad book. I’ve read many of his books, and all of them have raised my standards for historical fiction. “Refugee” has three stories that take place in different places and times that intersect in ways readers won’t expect. “Refugee” follows Josef, a Jew living in 1930s Nazi Germany; Isabel, who in 1994 is trying to escape from an unstable Cuba; and Mahmoud, a Syrian boy whose family is trying to escape to Europe. The collective story shows the horror of what happens to refugees, and what it is like to have to escape home.
“Prisoner B-3087” by Alan Gratz
It should be no surprise to anyone that another book by Alan Gratz is on here after my high praise for “Refugee.” Prisoner B-3087 follows a Jewish boy named Yanek who is separated from his family and forced into a concentration camp in Poland during the 1930s. With the number 3087 tattooed onto his arm, Yanek must fight for his survival, and more importantly, his humanity.
“Maus 1” by Art Spiegelman
Told in two parts as a graphic novel, “Maus” is one of the most interesting, well-written, well-drawn books I have ever read. With intertwining stories, the book follows Vladek’s life, the author’s father, in a concentration camp, along with the aftermath. “Maus” explores how Vladek’s own trauma passed down to his son and their troubled relationship.
I went into this book not sure what to expect, especially with the unique ways it’s written, but this has become one of my all time favorites. Vladek’s experience is clearly portrayed, and the authors struggle with this father and the trauma that spirals from that is eloquently and truthfully portrayed. The dynamic between Vladek and his son shows the generational trauma and its continued reach even after everything that has happened. Spiegelman very creatively portrays Jewish people mice while the Nazis are portrayed as cats. This unique biography is one of my must reads when it comes to holocaust literature, but also just books in general.
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