20+ Amazing Books on World War 2

20+ Amazing Books on World War 2

As a fan of historical fiction, I have a soft spot towards World War 2 related books, both fiction and non fiction. Quite recently, I had a wonderful discussion about a World War 2 fiction book on Twitter and I ended up with a truck load of great recommendations on the topic.

20+ Amazing Books on World War 2

Here are some of the books on WW2 recommended to me from readers, far and near, on Twitter.

1. The Winds of War and its sequel War and Remembrance by Herman Wouk

Like no other masterpiece of historical fiction, Herman Wouk’s sweeping epic of World War II is the great novel of America’s Greatest Generation.

Wouk’s spellbinding narrative captures the tide of global events, as well as all the drama, romance, heroism, and tragedy of World War II, as it immerses us in the lives of a single American family drawn into the very center of the war’s maelstrom.

The Winds of War and its sequel War and Remembrance stand as the crowning achievement of one of America’s most celebrated storytellers.

2. The Happiest Man on Earth by Eddie Jaku

Eddie Jaku always considered himself a German first, a Jew second. He was proud of his country. But all of that changed in November 1938, when he was beaten, arrested and taken to a concentration camp.

Over the next seven years, Eddie faced unimaginable horrors every day, first in Buchenwald, then in Auschwitz, then on a Nazi death march. He lost family, friends, his country.

Because he survived, Eddie made the vow to smile every day. He pays tribute to those who were lost by telling his story, sharing his wisdom and living his best possible life. He now believes he is the ‘happiest man on earth’.

Published as Eddie turns 100, this is a powerful, heartbreaking and ultimately hopeful memoir of how happiness can be found even in the darkest of times.

3. I Have Lived a Thousand Years by Livia Bitton-Jackson

What is death all about? What is life all about?

So wonders thirteen-year-old- Elli Friedmann, just one of the many innocent Holocaust victims, as she fights for her life in a concentration camp. It wasn’t long ago that Elli led a normal life; a life rich and full that included family, friends, school, and thoughts about boys. A life in which Elli could lie and daydream for hours that she was a beautiful and elegant celebrated poet.

But these adolescent daydreams quickly darken in March 1944, when the Nazis invade Hungary. First Elli can no longer attend school, have possessions, or talk to her neighbors. Then she and her family are forced to leave their house behind to move into a crowded ghetto, where privacy becomes a luxury of the past and food becomes a scarcity. Her strong will and faith allow Elli to manage and adjust somehow, but what Elli doesn’t know is that this is only the beginning and the worst is yet to come….

A remarkable memoir. I Have Lived a Thousand Years is a story of cruelty and suffering, but at the same time a story of hope, faith, perseverance and love.

4. The Black Swan of Paris by Karen Robards

A world at war. A beautiful young star. A mission no one expected.

Paris, 1944

Celebrated singer Genevieve Dumont is both a star and a smokescreen. An unwilling darling of the Nazis, the chanteuse’s position of privilege allows her to go undetected as an ally to the resistance.

When her estranged mother, Lillian de Rocheford, is captured by Nazis, Genevieve knows it won’t be long before the Gestapo succeeds in torturing information out of Lillian that will derail the upcoming allied invasion. The resistance movement is tasked with silencing her by any means necessary—including assassination.

But Genevieve refuses to let her mother become yet one more victim of the war. Reuniting with her long-lost sister, she must find a way to navigate the perilous cross-currents of Occupied France undetected—and in time to save Lillian’s life.

5. Night by Elie Wiesel

Born in the town of Sighet, Transylvania, Elie Wiesel was a teenager when he and his family were taken from their home in 1944 to Auschwitz concentration camp, and then to Buchenwald. Night is the terrifying record of Elie Wiesel’s memories of the death of his family, the death of his own innocence, and his despair as a deeply observant Jew confronting the absolute evil of man.

This new translation by his wife and most frequent translator, Marion Wiesel, corrects important details and presents the most accurate rendering in English of Elie Wiesel’s testimony to what happened in the camps and of his unforgettable message that this horror must simply never be allowed to happen again.

6. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

It is 1939. Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier, and will be busier still.

By her brother’s graveside, Liesel’s life is changed when she picks up a single object, partially hidden in the snow. It is The Gravedigger’s Handbook, left behind there by accident, and it is her first act of book thievery. So begins a love affair with books and words, as Liesel, with the help of her accordian-playing foster father, learns to read. Soon she is stealing books from Nazi book-burnings, the mayor’s wife’s library, wherever there are books to be found.

But these are dangerous times. When Liesel’s foster family hides a Jew in their basement, Liesel’s world is both opened up, and closed down.

In superbly crafted writing that burns with intensity, award-winning author Markus Zusak has given us one of the most enduring stories of our time.

7. The Girl in the Red Coat by Roma Ligocka, Iris Von Finckenstein

As a child in German-occupied Poland, Roma Ligocka was known for the bright strawberry-red coat she wore against a tide of gathering darkness. Fifty years later, Roma, an artist living in Germany, attended a screening of Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List, and instantly knew that “the girl in the red coat”—the only splash of color in the film—was her. Thus began a harrowing journey into the past, as Roma Ligocka sought to reclaim her life and put together the pieces of a shattered childhood.

The result is this remarkable memoir, a fifty-year chronicle of survival and its aftermath. With brutal honesty, Ligocka recollects a childhood at the heart of evil: the flashing black boots, the sudden executions, her mother weeping, her father vanished…then her own harrowing escape and the strange twists of fate that allowed her to live on into the haunted years after the war.

Powerful, lyrical, and unique among Holocaust memoirs, The Girl in the Red Coat eloquently explores the power of evil to twist our lives long after we have survived it. It is a story for anyone who has ever known the darkness of an unbearable past—and searched for the courage to move forward into the light.

8. Code Name: Lise by Larry Loftis

The true story of the woman who became WWII’s most highly decorated spy

The year is 1942, and World War II is in full swing. Odette Sansom decides to follow in her war hero father’s footsteps by becoming an SOE agent to aid Britain and her beloved homeland, France. Five failed attempts and one plane crash later, she finally lands in occupied France to begin her mission. It is here that she meets her commanding officer Captain Peter Churchill.

As they successfully complete mission after mission, Peter and Odette fall in love. All the while, they are being hunted by the cunning German secret police sergeant, Hugo Bleicher, who finally succeeds in capturing them. They are sent to Paris’s Fresnes prison, and from there to concentration camps in Germany where they are starved, beaten, and tortured. But in the face of despair, they never give up hope, their love for each other, or the whereabouts of their colleagues.

In Code Name: Lise, Larry Loftis paints a portrait of true courage, patriotism, and love—of two incredibly heroic people who endured unimaginable horrors and degradations. He seamlessly weaves together the touching romance between Odette and Peter and the thrilling cat and mouse game between them and Sergeant Bleicher.

9. Woman Who Smashed Codes by Jason Fagone

In 1916, at the height of World War I, brilliant Shakespeare expert Elizebeth Smith went to work for an eccentric tycoon on his estate outside Chicago. The tycoon had close ties to the U.S. government, and he soon asked Elizebeth to apply her language skills to an exciting new venture: code-breaking. There she met the man who would become her husband, groundbreaking cryptologist William Friedman.

In The Woman Who Smashed Codes, Jason Fagone chronicles the life of Elizebeth Smith who played an integral role in our nation’s history for forty years. After World War I, Smith used her talents to catch gangsters and smugglers during Prohibition, then accepted a covert mission to discover and expose Nazi spy rings that were spreading like wildfire across South America, advancing ever closer to the United States.

As World War II raged, Elizebeth fought a highly classified battle of wits against Hitler’s Reich, cracking multiple versions of the Enigma machine used by German spies. Meanwhile, inside an Army vault in Washington, William worked furiously to break Purple, the Japanese version of Enigma–and eventually succeeded, at a terrible cost to his personal life.

Fagone unveils America’s code-breaking history through the prism of Smith’s life, bringing into focus the unforgettable events and colorful personalities that would help shape modern intelligence

10. A Woman of No Importance by Sonia Purnell

In 1942, the Gestapo sent out an urgent transmission: “She is the most dangerous of all Allied spies. We must find and destroy her.”

This spy was Virginia Hall, a young American woman–rejected from the foreign service because of her gender and her prosthetic leg–who talked her way into the spy organization deemed Churchill’s “ministry of ungentlemanly warfare,” and, before the United States had even entered the war, became the first woman to deploy to occupied France.

Virginia Hall was one of the greatest spies in American history, yet her story remains untold. Just as she did in Clementine, Sonia Purnell uncovers the captivating story of a powerful, influential, yet shockingly overlooked heroine of the Second World War. At a time when sending female secret agents into enemy territory was still strictly forbidden, Virginia Hall came to be known as the “Madonna of the Resistance,” coordinating a network of spies to blow up bridges, report on German troop movements, arrange equipment drops for Resistance agents, and recruit and train guerilla fighters.

Even as her face covered WANTED posters throughout Europe, Virginia refused order after order to evacuate. She finally escaped with her life in a grueling hike over the Pyrenees into Spain, her cover blown, and her associates all imprisoned or executed. But, adamant that she had “more lives to save,” she dove back in as soon as she could, organizing forces to sabotage enemy lines and back up Allied forces landing on Normandy beaches.

Told with Purnell’s signature insight and novelistic flare, A Woman of No Importance is the breathtaking story of how one woman’s fierce persistence helped win the war.

More books on World war 2

  1. The Execution of Private Slovik by William Bradford Huie
  2. If This Is A Man by Primo Levi
  3. From Broken Glass by Steve Ross, Glenn Frank, Brian Wallace
  4. Children of the Flames by Lucette Matalon Lagnado, Sheila Cohn Dekel
  5. The Hidden Children by Jane Marks
  6. The Nazi Officer’s Wife by Edith Hahn Beer
  7. Four Perfect Pebbles by Lila Perl, Marion Blumenthal Lazan
  8. Steal a Pencil for Me by Jaap Polak

Special mention

Here are some books that Dr. Piotr Setkiewicz, Head of research center, Auschwitz Museum recommended on the topic.

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20+ Amazing Books on World War 2

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett – A book review

What better way to begin a year than a hyped book that recently secured a HBO adaptation deal? Is The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett worth all the hype? Read my book review to know more.

About The Vanishing Half

Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett cover

Book Name: The Vanishing Half

Author: Brit Bennett

Genre: Fiction – Historical,

Characters: Desiree and Stella Vignes, Jude, Reese, Kennedy, Early

Setting: Mallard, Louisiana, The USA

Plot Summary of The Vanishing Half

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett follows the lives of the Vignes twins who decide to run away from their small town at sixteen. The identical twins are so light skinned that they could pass as “White”. When the opportunity presents one of them takes it.

Desiree Vignes always wanted to get away from her town, where skin color is all that mattered. But when she returns years later, with a black skinned kid in tow, she was sure she will get away again.

Stella Vignes did get away from their town once and for all. She has a well settled life and a family that will never know her previous life.

Do either of them regret their choices? Is passing as “White” worth losing your identity and past? Can the lives of these identical sisters ever reunite? Read more about them in The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett.

Book review of The Vanishing Half

I am glad The Vanishing Half was one of the first books I read this year as it set such a positive hope for the year. I loved it and would keep recommending it to anyone who would listen.

Set in the fictional town of Mallard, Louisiana, The Vanishing Half deals with several intense themes like race, class, identity, internalized colorism, abuse, melancholy and motherhood. It made me question the narratives about race and caste passed on over generations by our families.

Despite the heavy themes, the author ensures to present a narration that is so gripping I never put it down once until I finished it. This is will be a wonderful pick for your next book club read!

While we might judge Stella for her internalized racism, bigotry and selfish decisions, it is hard not to sympathize with her loneliness and trying to find an identity for her new self.

What worked for me

  • I loved how the author got me introspecting my own prejudice and issues with generations of conditioning about colorism.
  • The Vanishing Half is not a plot oriented book, but it is just the author’s writing style kept me hooked until the end.
  • I loved how each character was well written and had a part to play. From Early to Reese, I enjoyed the male characters as much as the strong female ones.

What may have been better

  • I wish there were a bit more about Reese’s struggle as a trans guy in transition and passing himself as guy for years. I guess his life was not smooth as a trans man in the LGBTQ – drag circle in 1970s too.
  • The second part moved a bit slower than the first. You might find yourself skipping a paragraphs.
  • If you don’t like books with multiple POV, you might wanna watch out. But it did work spectacularly well for me.

Content warning

Racism (internalized and otherwise), Domestic abuse, colorism, running away from home, gender reassignment surgery.

Bottom line

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett is a must read historical fiction that deals with intense themes like racism, colorism, abuse and melancholy. Catch this hyped book out without hesitation!

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20+ Amazing Books on World War 2

The Kinship of Secrets by Eugenia Kim – A book review

I love reading about history and historical fiction. I knew I would like The Kinship of Secrets based on the summary. But I was excited because I almost knew nothing about Korean history and I actually wanted to. Did The Kinship of Secrets by Eugenia Kim fulfill the promise? Read on to know more.

About the book

Cover Kinship of Secrets by Eugenia Kim

Book Name: The Kinship of Secrets

Author: Eugenia Kim

Genre: Fiction – Drama, Literary, historical

Characters: Calvin, Najin, Miran and Inja Cho, Halmeoni, Harabeoji,

Setting: South Korea, Washington DC, The United States of America

Plot Summary

Just a short while after the World War II and the subsequent freedom from Japanese annexation, Najin and Calvin Cho move from Korea to the USA on the lookout for better prospective.

With a plan to return within two years, they take only their eldest daughter Miran with them, leaving the youngest Inja in the care of her aging parents and Najin’s brother.

Unexpectedly, the Korean War breaks out making it almost impossible for a reunion in the near future. Miran grows in an American suburbia, under the guilt and pressures of being the chosen one, while Inja’s problems are much bigger living in a war torn country with scanty resources.

When they finally get to meet after a decade and a half, would there still be a chance to family despite the horde of secrets between them? Would the years passed matter or just the familial bonds good enough form the rest of the story in The Kinship of Secrets by Eugenia Kim.

Book review

I was not sure what to expect when I picked the book and frankly it took me a while to get into the story. But about 30 pages in, I was completely sucked in. The alternating narratives between the sisters worked very well in this case as did the straight forward narrative.

Kim ensures the reader can trace the disparity between the two girls and the parallel worlds they live in. I adored the much more simplistic life of Inja and her devoted love towards her uncle, despite the dire circumstances they faced.

And Miran always knew that she had a privileged life and bore the brunt of it. She feels like an outsider in her own house when they all speak Korean and grows up watching the packages sent to Korea.

I am usually “heartless” when it comes to fictional characters, but somehow the plight of the young girls made me sob like a baby. And the credit goes to the author for that.

The Kinship of Secrets was an emotional read with compelling characters that are quintessentially Asian. I was surprised to see the many similarities between the traditions and yesteryear’s habits (as heard from family) of Korea and India. The importance of family and putting others first seem to be a common thread.

The Kinship of Secrets is inspired by a true story, so do not miss out on the Author’s note at the end of the book. I am looking forward to reading her other book, The Calligrapher’s Daughter.

What worked for me

  • The alternating narratives works well and shows the contrast between the lives of the sisters.
  • I loved the author’s writing style and it invoked so many emotions in me. She also made reading the Korean history more fun.
  • Knowing that The Kinship of Secrets was inspired by true events made it all the more interesting.

What may have been better

  • I felt the pre-adolescent chapters could have been shorter.

Bottom line

The Kinship of Secrets by Eugenia Kim is a poignant tale about sisterhood, family and secrets that keep them all together. If you are interested in an emotional read with lots of Korean history, you won’t be disappointed with this one.

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20+ Amazing Books on World War 2

The Henna Artist by Alka Joshi: A Book review

I was excited to grab a copy of The Henna Artist by Alka Joshi , as I heard it is an own voice book and that has received so much attention recently. To be honest, it was about how often does an Indian tale so well received by the “whites”, right? So let us get on to the review shall we?

About the Henna Artist

Henna artist by Alka Joshi Cover

Book Name: The Henna Artist

Author: Alka Joshi

Genre: Fiction – Drama, History

Characters: Lakshmi, Radha, Malik, Kanta and Manu, Parvati and Samir, Dr Jay Kumar, Maharani Latika

Setting: Jaipur, Rajasthan, India

Plot summary of the Henna Artist

Radha, or the Bad Luck Girl, is an orphan, now that her mother is also dead and fearing for her life she sets out to find her estranged sister Lakshmi with the help of Lakshmi’s abusive husband Hari.

Lakshmi is a henna artist in the post independence Jaipur, serving the upper class women by painting on their body. She has already had her share of knock downs in her life, having escaped an abusive husband a decade ago, leaving her parents to face the shame and started her life from nothing.

All she is working so hard is to build a house for her parents and seek forgiveness from them. But when her husband Hari and her newfound sister Radha walk into her life instead of them, her whole plan goes for a toss.

Could there ever be a happy ending for the bad luck girl? Will the poor ones ever settle in happy life? The answers to these questions form the rest of the story in The Henna Artist by Alka Joshi.

Book review of the Henna Artist

The Henna Artist talks of the women of Jaipur, of different classes and their lifestyles. While the plot had much promise, it was quite predictable and very much like a fairytale.

The characters are pretty charming and interesting but were too superficial for me to have some emotional connection with them. Malik was adorable and a perfect sidekick, but Radha was too annoying.

What I would love to see was some character development for them, I didn’t understand how the naive, frightened Radha turned into a snobby, angry pest even if I count her “rebellious teenage” as a factor.

Ms Joshi’s writing style is engrossing and it almost took me to the 1950s Jaipur and its grandeur. It also gives a quick primer on the caste system and post colonial India, without talking about its ugliness.

Well, that was one of the main let downs for me. This book was entirely written for the white people who want to read about the “exotic India” and “spirituality”. I am astounded that someone could gloss over about a system that ostracizes someone for dyeing the hair of a person from the low caste, like it was nothing.

Moreover, the characters dotting over Jane Austen and Dickens sounded too unbelievable. My aunts who were young in 1950s and broadly educated but I am pretty sure they didn’t read English classics. Another attempt at appealing to the whites??

What worked for me

  • A strong female lead who is career focused and fights for her hard won independence and freedom. I liked other women characters like Kanta, Parvati and Lakshmi’s mother in law who had taught her about healing herbs who were also strong and distinct from the others.
  • The writing was engrossing and vivid, especially in the first part, with the colorful description of the city and their lifestyles.

What may have been better

  • The book seemed it was directed at people who are new to India and its culture, rather than Indians. I totally wish The Henna Artist was written for Indians, rather than making it a propaganda.
  • The plot is predictable and too much of fairy-tale vibe, which didn’t work for me given the mature themes it covered.
  • I wish the characters had individual arcs and they had been fleshed out better.

Bottom line

The Henna Artist by Alka Joshi can be a good start for people who do not know anything about the Indian history and heritage with a predictable, fairy tale like ending. For people who know better, there are much better choices.

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20+ Amazing Books on World War 2

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi – A book review

Have you ever picked up a book, and within minutes you know that it is going to stay with you for a long time? One such book for me would be Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi. Read my book review of Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi to know how it fared for me.

The first time I heard about Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi was in 2018. Immediately, I knew there was only two ways this could end for me – either I am going to hate it and DNF, or I am gonna find a book that would recommend the heck of it to everyone I know.

About the book

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi book cover

Book Name: Homegoing

Author: Yaa Gyasi

Genre: Fiction – Drama, History, Literary

Characters: Maame, Cobbe Otcher, Effia Otcher, James Collins, Quey Collins, Nana Yaa Yeboah, James Richard Collins, Akosua Mensah, Abena Collins, Ohene Nyarko, Akua Collins, Asamoah Agyekum, Yaw Agyekum, Esther Amoah, Marjorie Agyekum; Big Man Assare, Esi Assare, Ness Stockham, Sam, Kojo Freeman, Anna Foster, H Black, Ethe Jackson, Eli Dalton, Willie Black, Robert Clifton, Carson Clifton, Amani Zulema, Marcus Clifton

Setting: Ghana, AfricaAlabamaThe USA

The plot

The book begins in the eighteenth century Ghana where the slave trade by the whites is at its peak. Effia and Esi are half-sisters born in different villages in Ghana. And it is through the lives of their descendants that we get a glimpse of history of Black lives in Africa and America over the centuries.

Effia becomes the mistress to an Englishman and lives in the comparative comfort of his castle, where unbeknownst to her, Esi among thousands of other African slaves is entrapped and sold to the America.

Esi and her family form the American history as a part of Alabama’s cotton plantations, Civil War, the coal mining and the twentieth century’s Harlem dope houses, to the present day. On the other hand, Effia and her descendants stay back in the continent to initially take part in the slave trade enthusiastically to finally fight their enslavers over the course of generations.

To know more about this family saga coupled with the history of Black lives in America and the slave trade in Ghana, you will have to read Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi.

My initial thoughts

First off I have to say Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi is going to be painful, hard and intense. This plot driven multi-generational family saga has too many characters and many African words to be an easy read.

The chapters are quite short, as is the book itself, and for a few it might read like a collection of short stories.

Okay now that I have warned you about everything that could put you off and have done my part to cast away the weak hearted’s, let us talk about Homegoing earnestly.

The subject matter of this semi autobiography, a risk you take when reading an Own Voice book, is the history of slavery and the drastic mistreatment of the Blacks over the centuries. True to the nature of the subject, Homegoing is painful and makes you wonder if we have moved forward at all.

Homegoing follows the seven generations of Effia and Esi alternatively, over two continents Africa and America – that is fourteen perspectives with our 250 years cover ground. And Yaa Gyasi does it effortlessly and so intricately in about 300 pages that I can’t believe that it is her debut novel.

We believe the one who has power. He is the one who gets to write the story. So when you study history, you must ask yourself, Whose story am I missing? Whose voice was suppressed so that this voice could come forth? Once you have figured that out, you must find that story too. From there you get a clearer, yet still imperfect, picture.

Yaa Gyasi, Homegoing

Personal rambling

I would go as far as telling that Homegoing had such an impact in me that I, not only had a book hangover for the next two days but also made me introspect on the effect of British oppression had on us as Indians and me as a person, in such a way that I had never thought of before.

My heart broke when Marcus tries to find his ancestors and could only reach till his grandfather H. I wished I could tell him the tales of his forefathers and that he finally reached his place in Ghana. Rarely, I get all emotional over books and I keep it objective and the point in my review, but guys, this book!!

In reality, that is literally what was done to him and the other millions of Blacks, we have uprooted them for personal gains, erased their history, not to speak of the atrocities their ancestors had to go through as slaves and second and third class citizens, and now we are still shooting them cuz of the color of their skin.

What worked for me

  • I loved how each story connected to the next generation so that we don’t miss the flow at all. I loved how the stone traveled generations to reach the other half of the family.
  • The writing was simple but yet so empathetic. It was so realistic that it made me feel like I know Ghana and the coal mines in Alabama, personally.
  • The way the slavery and colonialism, racism and the violence of it all were written made an impact in me that my history texts never it.
  • I loved that everyone I know who read this book had a different favorite character. Each of them were so well written that I can’t pick one how much ever I tried.

What may have been better

  • I wish the stories of the recent generations were little bit longer. Obviously, they were great as they are but I just wanted to spend a little more time knowing them.
  • If you are not a fan of plot driven books, Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi may not work for you.

Bottom line

If you are mildly interested in knowing the history of slavery, British colonialism or history of Black slaves in the USA, Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi should be your choice.

This historical fiction about seven generation family saga will satisfy both your fictional and history thirst! I will be reading more from the author definitely.

Go pick Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi already. Get your quota of reading towards Black lives matter and books by BIPOC about BIPOC or whatever other counts you have, but READ THIS BOOK.

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