Cover Image: November 1942

November 1942

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Member Reviews

Many, if not most, history books focus on one aspect of World War II, or one geographic area. It might be the Holocaust, the Africa campaign, the Resistance, the siege of Stalingrad, the Blitz, the bombings of German cities, life on the home front, sea battles, the siege of Stalingrad, Japanese atrocities in occupied territories and against POWs, the development of the A-bomb, and so on. In this book, we have all of those things, from the perspectives of a wide variety of people, in November 1942, a major turning point in the war. They include: a member of the Sonderkommand at Treblinka, residents of Stalingrad beginning a second winter blockaded by the invading Nazis, prisoners in a Japanese POW camp, Axis and Allied soldiers at Guadalcanal, English and American housewives, a university student who was a founding member of the White Rose resistance group in Germany, a young Jewish woman falling in love while living in occupied Paris, another young woman living with her family as a refugee in Shanghai, fighters in Finland, Africa, Italy, Germany and the USSR, a U-boat officer, an Englishman in Germany broadcasting Nazi propaganda back to England, famed pacifist writer Vera Brittain, writers Albert Camus and Vasily Grossman, and RAF pilots and gunners.

Telling the story of November 1942 through all these perspectives brings an immediacy and personal feel to history. It becomes easy to imagine yourself in their places, often not knowing if you would lose loved ones or even your own life. This is a gripping and impressive work of historical writing.

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From my pitch to the book review editor:

Peter Eglund wrote an earlier and much-praised book about the First World War, The Beauty and the Sorrow. Here he has chosen forty individuals, a few of them familiar (Albert Camus, Sophie Scholl) but most of them obscure (a Jewish girl in Shanghai, a Jewish lad in Treblinka, a crewman on a British bomber, an Italian officer, a Japanese infantryman, an Australian prisoner of war, a Korean sex slave in Burma, an American housewife on Long Island, and thirty others) and follows them through one month of war. The effect is like reading a novel with many characters whose lives mostly don't intersect, and it's hypnotic. I can't stop reading.

Some of the incidents are marvelous, as when a lost British tank in North Africa is heading east in search of friendly forces and meets an Italian truck crammed with soldiers escaping to the west; they pass one another without exchanging anything more than a watchful glance. Other scenes are mundane, as when the Long Island woman tries to clean her house with the help of her "colored" maid. And some of course are horrific, as when the lad in Treblinka, exhausted by extracting bodies from the gas chamber at a run, saves himself by claiming to be a dentist, to get the easier job of extracting gold from the teeth of the victims.

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