Three new books on the Holocaust, a novel set in World War II–era Vietnam, and works on Winston Churchill and Volodymyr Zelensky make for compelling offerings for the history buff.

The Holocaust: An Unfinished History

Dan Stone. Mariner, $32.50 (464p) ISBN 978-0-063-34903-2
Historian Stone (The Liberation of the Camps) argues in this powerful study that “in many ways we have failed unflinchingly to face the terrible reality of the Holocaust.” Surveying the wide body of research on the subject, he contends that public consciousness has wrongly been dominated by “the perception of ‘factory-like’ genocide”—a misleading idea that serves to replace the brutal, up-close murders of the Holocaust with an imaginary bureaucratic killing machine. To counter this inaccurate vision, Stone analyzes the “ideology” of the Holocaust—from its roots in European antisemitism, through the brutal Nazi race regime that was quickly adopted by collaborators in countries invaded by Germany, to its aftermath when some Jewish people who refused to emigrate from Europe were kept in “displaced persons” camps all the way through 1957, and into the following decades of mass trauma and attempts at commemoration. His astute investigation, which adeptly moves between “microhistories” and large-scale events, shows how the Holocaust was primarily made possible by the widespread adoption of racist thinking and the long-term nurturing of “genocidal fantasy” in Europe—the latter of which is still poorly reckoned with today, since the emotional frenzy of genocide is rarely brought to the fore in “sanitized” Holocaust historiography. Concluding with a dire warning that the modern nation-state is a catalyst for racist and genocidal thinking that is today often targeted at migrants, Muslims, and other maginalized groups, this is an urgent new perspective on a much-studied calamity. (Jan.)

Counterfeit Countess: The Jewish Woman Who Rescued Thousands of Poles During the Holocaust

Elizabeth White and Joanna Sliwa. Simon & Schuster, $28.99 (336p) ISBN 978-1-982-18912-9
Historians White and Sliwa (Jewish Childhood in Kraków) deliver a powerful biography of Jewish mathematician Janina Spinner Mehlberg (1905–1969), who posed as a Catholic aristocrat during WWII and joined the Polish resistance. Born to a “life of rare privilege for a Polish Jewish girl,” Mehlberg earned a doctorate in 1928, married a fellow student, and settled in Lwow (later Lvov). By 1941 the couple “experienced the full force of Nazi persecution.” After narrowly evading several deadly round-ups, they arrived in Lublin, where a family friend, Count Andrzej Skrzynski, provided them with new identities as Count and Countess Suchodolska. When the German SS took charge of the city, Skrzynski recruited “the Countess” to provide welfare services to prisoners at the Majdanek concentration camp, where she connected with the resistance, aided during a typhus epidemic, and engaged in fraught negotiations with the camp commandant that led in 1943 to the release of more than 3,000 Catholic Poles imprisoned there after their expulsion from territory annexed by Germany in 1939. Drawing from Mehlberg’s private memoir, the authors recreate vivid scenes of horror at Majdanek, describing on one occasion “the smell of burnt hair and roasting flesh.” The result is a heart-wrenching profile of resilience, ingenuity, and heroism. (Jan.)

Lovers in Auschwitz: A True Story

Keren Blankfeld. Little, Brown, $30 (400p) ISBN 978-0-316-56477-9
Journalist Blankfeld debuts with a page-turning account of the unlikely love story between David Wisnia, a Polish Jew from the Warsaw ghetto, and Zippi Spitzer, a Jew from Slovakia, that blossomed amidst the horror of Auschwitz. The two met during a work detail in the prisoner intake area; the only woman stationed there, Spitzer—a smooth operator who had “immediately been strategic in creating connections [with] prisoners and guards”—had talked her way into a position painting the stripes on women’s prison uniforms. She eventually became the right-hand woman to the commandants of the women’s camp, Birkenau, and, according to Blankfeld, “used her growing influence to shield unhealthy prisoners by giving them positions inside her office.” A graphic designer by trade prior to her internment, she made secret copies of rosters and camp diagrams, “hiding the copies in her office in hopes that one day they’d come in handy” for prosecuting Nazi crimes. Separated after the war, Spitzer and Wisnia both made their way to the U.S., where they began new lives. Unbeknownst to Wisnia until they met again, more than 70 years after the war, Spitzer had taken several actions to keep him alive in the camps, including removing his name from crematorium rosters. Fast-paced and novelistic, this is a moving demonstration of the ability to find love in the darkest places. (Jan.)

Twilight Territory

Andrew X. Pham. Norton, $27.99 (400p) ISBN 978-1-324-06484-8
Vietnam during WWII and immediately after provides the backdrop for this transportive novel of love and resistance from Pham (Catfish and Mandala). In 1942, Tuyet is a divorced single mother living with her aunt and cousin in the small fishing village of Phan Thiet. There, she meets Maj. Yamazaki Takeshi, who is part of the Japanese occupation. Despite their differences, an unlikely friendship springs up between the two and eventually blossoms into love, marriage, and family. When the war is over, Takeshi decides to join the Viet Minh resistance against the French, who have retaken the country. Tuyet goes into hiding with her aunt and children as Takeshi’s cadre embarks on bloody raids against the colonial forces. As the war continues, both sides commit acts of savagery, with the lives of Tuyet and her family always in the balance. Combining the sensuality of Marguerite Duras with the revolutionary politics of Andre Malraux, Pham describes the ordeals faced by Tuyet and Takeshi in the most viscerally harrowing of terms, creating two memorable characters whose relationship is equal parts romantic and sacrificial. With captivating force, Pham brings to life a lesser-known aspect of the tragic history of Vietnam. (Jan.)

Mirrors of Greatness: Churchill and the Leaders Who Shaped Him

David Reynolds. Basic, $32.50 (464p) ISBN 978-1-541-62020-9
Historian Reynolds (Island Stories) doesn’t quite find a fresh angle on the much-studied British prime minister in this energetic if familiar study of “how Churchill learned from others as he rose to national and global prominence.” Reynolds begins with profiles of his subject’s mentors, including Churchill’s father, Lord Randolph Churchill, whose political tactics Churchill adopted early in his career, and prime minister David Lloyd George, who taught Churchill “the language of Radicalism.” Reynolds then moves on to Churchill’s contemporaries during WWII, including his predecessor as prime minister, Neville Chamberlain; allied leaders Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Joseph Stalin; and Charles de Gaulle, who Reynolds contends was very similar to Churchill, arguing that both saw themselves as the embodiment of their country’s core identities. There are chapters on Churchill’s political foes—Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini, Mohandas Gandhi, and Churchill’s successor Clement Attlee, who leveraged a productive partnership during the war into a postwar ouster—and his wife Clementine, who supported her husband’s ambitions. Throughout, the analysis of how Churchill was influenced by his mentors, peers, and foes is lightly done. (Reynolds’s conclusion that one of Churchill’s “greatest achievements” was learning “the arts of improvisation,” is a well-observed character assessment, though it appears to be more of an innate talent than something developed in dialogue with others.) This one’s best suited to Churchill completists. (Jan.)

The Showman: Inside the Invasion That Shook the World and Made a Leader Out of Volodymyr Zelensky

Simon Shuster. Morrow, $32 (368p) ISBN 978-0-063-30742-1
Time magazine correspondent Shuster debuts with an up-close account of Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky’s transformation from comedian and political satirist to steadfast wartime leader and world symbol of “fortitude.” Drawing on unprecedented access to Zelensky as well as interviews with the president’s friends, advisers, ministers, staff members, and wife Olena, Shuster tracks how the celebrity actor went from “naive charmer preparing to enter a world of cynics, oligarchs and thugs who took him for an easy mark” to “stubborn, confident, vengeful, impolitic” leader of a beleaguered nation. In addition to chronicling Zelensky’s successful bid for the presidency in 2019 and his first days in office, when he “showed a painful sensitivity to criticism,” Shuster describes how the former TV star, driven by “professional” instincts from the start of the Russian invasion, made highly publicized appearances—including at South Korea’s parliament, the World Bank, and the Grammy Awards—with the goal of winning over Western leaders and securing weapons. Soon “it turned into a political rite of passage” for European heads of state to travel to Kyiv and pose for a selfie with Zelensky. The president’s critics will note Shuster downplays accusations of his subject’s “high-handedness,” though he does discuss Zelensky’s crackdowns on the Ukrainian press. This is a crisp snapshot of a national leader under fire. (Jan.)