War with the Newts

Karel Capek (1936)

“This is a brilliant book by the Czech writer who invented the word “robot.” His story of how giant salamanders take over the world after being exploited by humans is at once a chilling social satire and science fiction. Čapek lampoons contemporaneous politics in all its disturbing forms, from imperialism, to nationalism, to racism, and to fascism, with “newt expansionists” ultimately demanding more living space. This prescient novel chronicles the run-up to war before it actually happened.”

Forgotten Ally: China’s World War II, 1937-1945

Rana Mitter (2013)

“Some would argue that World War II in Asia began well before Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, with the Sino-Japanese War beginning in 1937. This excellent new book examines the Chinese side of the devastating conflict that preceded the war’s Pacific phase. Mitter makes one realize how much China has suffered at the hands of imperialists, invaders, and internal factions—and simply marvel at the nation’s resilience.”

The Plot Against America

Philip Roth (2004)

“This novel’s broad historical hypothesis is that Charles Lindbergh beats FDR in 1940 and makes America increasingly anti-Semitic and closer to Hitler. My book Japan 1941 is not a counterfactual history, but it was greatly inspired by Roth’s novelistic imagination as I asked myself: ‘What if Japan did not ally itself with the fascists in Europe? What if Japan was dealing with a completely different America on the eve of Pearl Harbor?’”

Grave of the Fireflies

Akiyuki Nosaka (1967)

“Better-known through Hayao Miyazaki’s animated film, this semi-autobiographical novella by one of postwar Japan’s most talented writers imagines a brother and sister orphaned by a June 1945 air raid on Kobe. Akiyuki puts a human face to the consequence of Japanese leaders’ decision to go to war in December 1941.”

Year Zero: A History of 1945

Ian Buruma (2013)

“This riveting and groundbreaking history considers the world immediately after the war’s end. The book’s geographical coverage matches its ambitious scope, examining how the world we live in came to be. Buruma doesn’t claim to present ‘lessons of history.’ Rather, he attempts to understand our times and ourselves—which sums up why the war continues to fascinate so many of us.”

Eri Hotta, the author of Japan 1941: Countdown to Infamy, has taught at Oxford and at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. She lives in New York City.

 

Originally published in the June 2014 issue of World War II. To subscribe, click here.