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Memorial Day

by Carla Sarratt on 2017-05-22T08:00:00-04:00 in Literature & the Arts, Biography, History & Genealogy

by Charlene Pollano, Library Associate


Since 1882, our country has celebrated a holiday known as Memorial Day. Before that, it was more commonly known as Decoration Day. The custom was to “decorate” with flowers the graves of those who died while serving their country in the armed forces. Later, placing a flag on the grave was included. The preferred name for the holiday gradually changed from "Decoration Day" to "Memorial Day," which did not become the more common name until after World War II and was not declared the official name by Federal law until 1967.

My own father served on a Navy destroyer during World War II and received a Purple Heart for his service. That medal hangs on my own wall now, and decorating his grave with flowers and a flag is part of our family ritual.

Memorial Day is also traditionally the official start of summer, although if you live in the north, as I did for most of my life, that did not necessarily mean we could now race to the beach!

Summer reading is always a topic of conversation for those avid readers who strive to “get some reading done” while on summer vacation. If, like me, you prefer to learn more about war history through reading historical fiction rather than sticking to the innumerable history texts, perhaps you would be interested in the many wonderful novels set during wartime. Wartime fiction has grown in leaps and bounds over the past years. In fact, it could be a genre unto itself. Because of that, I am sticking to only the two World Wars, which would keep an avid reader busy for several summers. Well, maybe the rest of your summers! However, there are many choices of novels set during the Vietnam War, Afghanistan, and Iraq.


World War I

Okay, I cheated and included one nonfiction book in this section because it was a runaway bestseller.

Dead Wake by Erik Larson

In This Grave Hour by Jacqueline Winspear

The Spy by Paulo Coelho

Fall of Giants by Ken Follett

The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson



World War II

The Women in the Castle by Jessica Shattuck

Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak


Okay, I just got started here! There are so many to choose from, such as The Japanese Lover by Isabel Allende, Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay, Atonement by Ian McEwan, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (don’t let the long title scare you, it’s wonderful!) by Mary Ann Shaffer, and if you are into Ken Follett’s Century trilogy (see above), then continue with Winter of the World.

I haven’t forgotten those fans of the classics. The Diary of a Young Girl should be on everyone’s “to read” list, along with Night by Elie Wiesel, Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut, and Catch 22 by Joseph Heller.

Well, you get the gist. If Memorial Day is an inspiration for you to learn more about war through the wonderful world of fiction, check out NHCPL’s website and enter the world of wartime fiction. Perhaps it’s a way of honoring those who gave their lives to their country by trying to understand the context in which they fought. Have a wonderful Memorial Day!

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