cover image November 1942: An Intimate History of the Turning Point of World War II

November 1942: An Intimate History of the Turning Point of World War II

Peter Englund, trans. from the Swedish by Peter Graves. Knopf, $32 (496p) ISBN 978-1-524-73331-5

Swedish historian Englund takes a captivating firsthand look at a pivotal month of WWII by drawing on the diaries, letters, and memoirs of 39 people who lived through it—the same approach he utilized in The Beauty and the Sorrow, his 2012 study of WWI. Over the course of November 1942, the momentum toward victory shifted away from the Axis powers and to the Allies: U.S. troops landed in North Africa; the British defeated the Germans in Egypt; the Soviets trapped the German army in Stalingrad; and the Japanese suffered defeat in Guadalcanal and New Guinea. Englund’s subjects, who document aspects of this turning of the tides, include Sophie Scholl, a German university student leading a secret war against the Nazis; Mun Okchu, an 18-year-old Korean woman forced to work as a sex slave for the Japanese army in Burma; and Adelbert Holl, a German officer embedded behind enemy lines in Russia. There are also such well-known figures as Albert Camus, living outside Lyons, France, while recovering from tuberculosis and finishing his novel The Plague, and Humphrey Bogart, waiting in Hollywood to shoot the new ending of Casablanca as news of U.S. troops in Africa dominates headlines. This gripping and propulsive account, expertly translated by Graves in lyrical prose, recreates the daily uncertainty of war as experienced by regular people with limited information and few resources. It’s a monumental work of history. (Nov.)