Traveling to France or looking for a historical fiction read? Brush up on your WWII history with these novels set in Occupied France for adults, teens, and children.
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I have a thing for books set in occupied France. Honestly, it’s been a thing since I was a kid, when I read Twenty and Ten years ago.
My two favorites – WWII fiction and France – marry to tell stories of the French Resistance, female spies, and citizens, even children, coming together in bravery to save their own.
By no means am I trying to romanticize WWII. I just think there are so many amazing stories and novels of bravy, heroism, and redemption from WWII and many of them happen to be set in Occupied France.
13 WWII Novels Set in France
Historical Fiction Novels Set in Occupied France
The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
This best-seller, based on a true story, follows two sisters, Vianne and Isabelle.
Vianne, a married teacher and mother, struggles with her husband’s draft and subsequent capture, rationing, and the billeting of SS officers in her home. She also begins to shelter Jewish children, including her best friend’s three year old. Isabelle, younger and more impulsive, moves to Paris and joins the French Resistance.
As we wait to see if the sisters will ever reunite, their stories sheds light on the idea that there isn’t just one way to be a hero during wartime. From resistance fighters to quiet housewives, bravery resides in many.
Get a copy of The Nightingale
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
This WWII novel set in France and Germany won both the Pulitzer Prize and the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction in 2015.
Blind 6 year old Marie-Laure frequently accompanies her father to work at the Museum of Natural History in Paris, which is rumored to house the Sea of Flames, a cursed blue diamond. When Germany invades France, Marie-Laure and her father flee to her uncle’s home in Saint-Malo. Unbeknownst to Marie-Laure, her father is entrusted with the Sea of Flames or one of three copies. He hides it in a wooden model of Saint-Malo he makes for Marie-Laure to study.
Meanwhile, orphan German boy Werner joins the Nazi elite military school, the National Political Institute of Education at Schulpforta. His unit deploys to Saint-Malo to track the source of mysterious broadcasts. His path intertwines with Marie-Laure’s as it unravels a story of what it means to truly see.
Get a copy of All the Light We Cannot See
The Alice Network by Kate Quinn
The Alice Network is a dual narrative of a female spy and an American college student who’s stories come together through betrayal, heroism, and eventually redemption.
Evelyn Gardner is a spy for The Alice Network during WWI with a haunting past. Charlie is a pregnant, unmarried college student in post WWII, looking for her French cousin, Rose, who went missing during the war. The plot lines intersect at the very beginning, on Eve’s doorstep. In a desperate attempt for Charlie to contact the last person who worked on Rose’s file, she finds Eve. The two women, along with Eve’s handsome housekeeper, Finn, set out across France looking for answers and closure to past secrets that unravelled an entire spy network.
Quinn beautifully folds into her novel lesser known aspects of both wars. A blend of fact and fiction, The Alice Network is based on forgotten souls of history. As we travel across France, and through two world wars, we see the heartache behind human suffering and the connections that can be made through it.
Get a copy of The Alice Network
The Paris Architect by Charles Belfoure
An architect himself, Charles Belfoure previously authored numerous works of non-fiction. The Paris Architect, his first work of fiction, reached the New York Times bestseller list in 2015. Belfoure’s inspiration came from the secret hiding places built for Catholic priests during the reign of England’s Elizabeth the First.
Lucien Bernard is an architect living in Paris during World War II. He is offered a large sum of money to design hiding places for Jews. Bernard is initially indifferent to the Jewish population and their cause. He accepts the job because he cannot resist a challenge and desperately needs the money.
As his work becomes more plentiful, Lucien’s personal life begins to crumble. His wife considers him a collaborator and leaves him, while his mistress takes up with a Nazi officer. One of his hiding places fails, his mistress’s lover discovers another. Nothing is what it seems in this story of twists, turns, tension, and conflict. Ultimately, the message that no one human life is more valuable than another leaves its impression on both Lucien and readers.
Get a copy of The Paris Architect
Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly
The first in a series, Lilac Girls is based on the life and work of Caroline Ferriday and the Ravensbrück Rabbits.
A New York socialite and philanthropist, Caroline Ferriday works at the French Consulate when Hitler begins to invade Poland in 1939. Across the sea, Polish teenager, Kasia Kuzmerick, joins the underground resistance. Nazi doctor, Herta Oberheuser, finds herself at Revensbrück to conduct experiments on prisoners.
The stories begin to cross paths when Kasia is caught and sent to Ravensbrück. Years later, Caroline learns of the Ravensbrück Rabbits and their torture at the hands of Oberheuser. She makes it her mission to bring the surviving women to the United States for treatment and comes to be known as their ‘godmother.’
Lilac Girls crosses from New York to Paris, Germany to Poland, bringing justice to the forgotten.
Get a copy of Lilac Girls
Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay
Sarah’s Key, originally published in French, is one of the most heartbreaking WWII novels set in France.
The story follows two plots, the first being that of Jewish girl, Sarah Starzynski. She and her family are arrested during the Vel’ d’Hiv Roundup. Thinking she will be home shortly, she locks her brother in a cupboard. After being sent to Drancy, Sarah is separated from her family and eventually sent to Auschwitz. She keeps constant thought of her brother, still locked in the cupboard, and the key in her pocket.
Julia Jarmond is an American journalist in Paris, writing an article honoring the 60th anniversary of the roundup. During her research, she discovers that her husband’s grandparents inhabited the apartment after the Starzynski family. Learning of and eventually becoming obsessed with Sarah’s story, Julia retraces the steps of the young girl.
Get a copy of Sarah’s Key
Non Fiction WWII Stories From the French Theater
A Train in Winter by Caroline Moorehead
In January 1943, the Gestapo hunted down 230 women of the French Resistance. They were all sent to Auschwitz. A Train in Winter is their story, compiled from resistance documents and interviews of these women and their families.
The women of the French Resistance were individuals from all walks of life, from doctors to housewives. The oldest was a wife in her 60s who gave refuge to downed airmen. The youngest was a fifteen year old student. Each with their own story of resistance, these women were hunted down by the Gestapo and sent to a prison outside Paris. With only one another to turn to, their experiences brought them together as they found solace in friendship and camaraderie. Eventually, they were sent to Auschwitz from which only a fraction would return.
This non-fiction work brings to light an atrocious chapter of the war, and a story of courage and survival. Inspiring tales of bravery and courage from ordinary people, and the power of friendship, transcend the evils of WWII.
Get a copy of A Train in Winter
Code Name Lise: The True Story of the Woman Who Became WWII’s Most Highly Decorated Spy by Larry Loftis
In 1942 Odette Sansom becomes a spy to aid Britain and France during WWII. Her first mission lands her in France, where she meets, and eventually falls in love with, her commanding officer Peter Churchill.
The two are successful at many missions, all while being hunted by German officer Hugo Bleicher. Code Name Lise chronicles the success of Odette and Peter, their love, eventual capture, and the hope the two keep alive for one another and their friends.
Get a copy of Code Name Lise
YA and Children’s WWII Picture Books, Chapter Books, and Graphic Novels Set in France
The Little Ships: The Heroic Rescue at Dunkirk in World War II by Louise Borden
The Little Ships introduces the heroic rescue of French and English troops from the English Channel during the Battle of Dunkirk.
Towards the end of the war, over half a million soldiers were trapped in France. This gentle picture book illustrates the story of the small ships who came to their rescue, and the heroes – both young ad old – including a young girl, disguised as a boy wanting to help.
Get a copy of The Little Ships
Hidden: A Child’s Story of the Holocaust by Loic Dauvillier
In this gentle graphic novel, a grandmother tells her granddaughter of her time as a young Jewish girl, hiding from the Nazis in Occupied France.
In a tender way, she talks of the neighbors and friends who kept her alive while her parents were taken away to concentration camps. While the story ends positively, the message is not lost on young readers.
Get a copy of Hidden: A Child’s Story of the Holocaust
Odette’s Secrets by Maryann Macdonald
Odette’s father is sent to a concentration camp, and her mother suspected of working with the French Resistance. For her safety, Odette is sent to the French countryside, where she must play the part of a typical catholic schoolgirl.
Inside, she keeps secrets of a life left behind. When the war is over, can Odette return to her previous life in Paris? Inspired by true events, this free-verse novel tells of bravery, triumph, and the cost of keeping secrets.
Get a copy of Odette’s Secrets
The Secret Cave by Claire Hutchet Bishop
Originally titled Twenty and Ten, this short novel tells of twenty school children and their teacher taking refuge in the mountains. When they are asked to take in ten Jewish children, they agree. With the Nazis looking for these ten children, the others do all they can – risking their own safety – to keep the group safe.
Get a copy of The Secret Cave
The Bicycle Spy by Yona Zeldis McDonough
Young Marcel loves to ride his bike and race through the streets of France making bread deliveries. With the Germans occupying France, Marcel’s rides are interrupted and the Tour de France – his ultimate dream – cancelled.
When Marcel discovers a friend in grave danger, he knows he can help. Marcel rides his bike to deliver a risky message, but, as expected, nothing goes according to plan. Can Marcel save his own fate, and that of his friends and family?
Get a copy of The Bicycle Spy
Do you enjoy historical fiction or stories from the WWII era? Have you read any of the books in this list? What would you add?
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