10 Books Like All the Light We Cannot See: Heroines, Fate and WWII

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Winner of the 2015 Pulitzer Prize, All the Light We Cannot See combined hypnotizing prose with eccentric characters to tell a tale of World War II that moved thousands of readers. It’s definitely a tough act to follow, but we’ve done our best to dig up books like All the Light We Cannot See.

Our list of books like All the Light We Cannot See draws on many fan-favorite elements of the novel. We’ve got more World War II stories, precocious heroines and daydreamy heroes, and stories touched by fate and mysticism. We’ve also netted a few novels that will introduce you to lesser known wars and genocides. If you enjoyed All the Light We Cannot See, your next great read is somewhere on this list!

Books like All the Light We Cannot See, with book covers.

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10 Books Like All the Light We Cannot See

The Book Thief, Markus Zusak

If you’re interested in reading more about World War II, The Book Thief is a great place to start.

Nine-year-old Liesel lives in a precarious position. A foster child in Munich at the start of World War II, she doesn’t make life any easier on herself when she begins stealing books from her aristocratic neighbors and smuggling them to the young Jewish artist hidden in her cellar. Her boldness wins her many friends (including one supernatural protector), but under the shadow of war, she may bring more danger upon herself than she can escape.

The Book Thief and All the Light We See have obvious parallels in their plots. Both novels feature precocious young heroines forced into hiding, the blossoming of first love, and of course, the chaos and violence of war. However The Book Thief has a uniquely magical twist: the story is narrated by Death. If you were tantalized by the hints of mysticism in All the Light We Cannot See, you’ll love The Book Thief for fully embracing the paranormal dimensions of war. 

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society, Annie Barrows and Mary Ann Shaffer

All the Light We Cannot See situated its characters directly in World War II’s line of fire. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society takes a cozier approach by focussing on a small island off the coast of Britain. 

Juliet, a novelist burnt out by the atrocities of World War II, stumbles upon an unlikely source of inspiration while looking for the subject of her next book. On the quiet island of Guernsey, a book club formed to avoid the wartime curfew has read her latest novel–and they have opinions. After corresponding with her new critics, Juliet decides to visit Guernsey. What she finds on the little island will change her view of the war and her voice as a writer forever.

If you enjoyed the eccentric cast of characters in All the Light We Cannot See, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society has plenty more in store, from pig farmers to French rebels to local theater producers. Warm-hearted and humorous, the novel sets out to prove that World War II was no less real on the little island of Guernsey than it was in continental Europe. 

The Great Believers, Rebecca Makkai

Set in the 1985 AIDS epidemic, The Great Believers may seem to be separated from All the Light We Cannot See by a significant time gap, but that’s one of the triumphs of this novel. It traces the aftermath of tragedy through time, connecting historical events with deep emotional truth.

Yale Tishman, the director of an art gallery in Chicago, is living his best life. He lives in a vibrant gay community with his handsome, steady partner, and he is about to pull off the most important art acquisition of his career: a collection of masterpiece paintings from the 1920s. But Yale’s life begins to crumble when the AIDS epidemic strikes Chicago. Suddenly, the paintings take on a new meaning to Yale, as he relates the death toll of the AIDS epidemic to the loss of young men on WWI’s battlefields. 

Like All the Light We Cannot See, The Great Believers was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. It’s a beautifully written novel exploring the depths of comfort and pain that friendship can bring us when a society is struck by tragedy.

A Thousand Splendid Suns, Khaled Hosseini

For most of us, World War II feels like the stuff of historical fiction. However, you may have grown up in the shadow of the US’s more recent war: the War in Afghanistan. A Thousand Splendid Suns presents a different side of a story you lived through.

Mariam and Laila have little in common until the relatively stable, liberal government in Afghanistan is violently overthrown, and both women become victims of systemic oppression. Forced to share an abusive husband, Mariam and Laila band together to fight for a better life for Laila’s daughter. As the new regime becomes more and more restrictive and the womens’ husband grows increasingly brutal, it becomes clear to the two women that only one of them will make it out alive.

Celebrated for balancing his love of Afghanistan with the stark reality of its oppressive government, Khaled Hosseini writes stories with incredible depth of emotion about characters who are forced to make impossible choices. 

The Signature of All Things, Elizabeth Gilbert

In All the Light We Cannot See, Marie-Laure’s fascination with the natural world is interrupted by the closure of the museum where her father works due to the occupation of German soldiers. In The Signature of All Things, readers get to watch a young woman’s love for environmental science reach its fruition.

Born in the early 1800s, the daughter of a gentleman scientist, Alma is expected to provide a peaceful domestic life for her father. Instead, she joins him in his pursuit of scientific truth. Isolated by her unusual interests, Alma turns her focus to the many species of moss that flourish on her father’s estate. Soon, her notes on the world around her begin to reveal the interconnected nature of all life, but when she falls in love with a visiting priest, she struggles to accept his explanation that all life is connected through God rather than science.

An atmospheric novel that pays homage to human curiosity and the interconnected nature of life on Earth, The Signature of All Things is perfect for readers who wanted more of the early chapters of All the Light We Cannot See.

A Long Petal of the Sea, Isabel Allende

Though Spain remained neutral during World War II, the reign of Generalissimo Franco from 1939 to 1975 was no less harrowing than the reign of Hitler or Mussolini. Like All the Light We Cannot See, A Long Petal of the Sea follows the lives of regular citizens who were forced to fight, hide, or flee when their country was taken over by a fascist dictator.

Victor Dalmau is studying to become a doctor when his life is derailed by the explosion of the Spanish Civil War. Forced to take up arms rather than the tools of medicine, Victor fights with the Spanish Resistance until his brother’s death in combat proves the cause is hopeless. Then Victor does the only thing left to do: he marries his brother’s widow in order to smuggle her out of the country. Arriving in Chile as confused and grieving refugees, Victor and Roser struggle to find happiness in a new country while longing to return to their own broken homeland.

A lesser known story than World War II, the Spanish Civil War introduces readers to a new culture and landscape while retaining universal themes: tangled relationships, desperate decisions, and nostalgia for a country that has been permanently altered by war. If you liked reading All the Light We Cannot See, you’ll love A Long Petal of the Sea too.

If you like the idea of Spanish settings, we’ve also got a list of books set in Spain.

The Zookeeper’s Wife, Diane Ackerman

If you enjoyed the Marie-Laure’s early life at the natural history museum, you’ll be thrilled to meet Antonina, heroine of The Zookeeper’s Wife, and all her exotic friends!

Based on the true story of the Warsaw Zoo, The Zookeeper’s Wife details a dangerous scheme hatched by the keepers of the Warsaw Zoo to fight back against the Nazi regime and save the lives of over three hundred people. Given animal code names and hidden away in extravagant exhibits, these survivors are a true testament to the madness of war–and the beauty that can sometimes coexist with madness.

With is World War II setting, bold eccentric characters, and ties to natural history, The Zookeeper’s Wife tops the list of books similar to All the Light We Cannot See.

The Weight of Ink, Rachel Kadish

When most people think about antisemitism, they think about World War II. As The Weight of Ink reminds us, the Jewish people were persecuted for thousands of years prior to the Nazi regime.

Like many Jewish women in the Middle Ages, Ester Velasquez emigrated from Amsterdam to London in hopes of finding greater freedom. When she is hired as a scribe for a blind rabbi who has a special sympathy for women who want an education, Ester hopes her efforts will be rewarded. But when plague and religious paranoia strike London, Ester and the rabbi are become easy targets for violent antisemitism. 

With beautiful prose that matches the tone of All the Light We Cannot See, The Weight of Ink offers a new perspective on plague in seventeenth century London and on the long, winding history of the Jewish people.

For more on a similar topic, The Weight of Ink also features on our list of books about books (manuscripts and maps).

Outlander (Outlander #1), Diana Gabaldon

All the Light We Cannot See is quite a serious read. If you need something a little lighter to cleanse your palette from the Nazi regime, Outlander, a time-travel romance turned into a Netflix phenomenon, could be the book for you!

Just back from serving as a nurse on the frontlines of World War II, Claire is trying to put trauma behind her on a honeymoon vacation with her husband. But when Claire accidentally crosses a time bridge, she finds herself stranded in seventeenth-century Scotland, where all outsiders (especially women with foreign clothes and accents) are regarded with hostility. Claire must fight to survive in this rugged world, with help from a young Scottish warrior he may just convince her to stay.

Fast paced and rich in historical detail, Outlander is a wild romp around ancient Scotland that is sure to entertain! And if you love Outlander, you won’t need a book list to choose your next read. There are eleven more books in the Outlander series!

If you like the idea of a Scottish setting, we’ve also got a whole list of books set in Scotland.

The Fault in Our Stars, John Green

Though it’s written for a young adult audience, The Fault in Our Stars is one of the most sincere novels you can find about love in the face of disability. If you were touched by Marie-Laure’s ability to form deep connections despite the loss of her vision, you will be swept away by the romance that blooms between Hazel and Augustus. 

Hazel has lived with cancer for almost as long as she can remember. Though her life is limited in many ways–she depends on an oxygen tank for breath and often lacks the energy to keep up with other teenagers–her sensitivity to the world around her is unlimited. When Hazel falls in love with Augustus, a cancer survivor whose prognosis has been positive ever since his leg was amputated, she can’t help hoping that their time together will be infinite.

Adding diversity to the traditional story of teenage, star-crossed lovers, The Fault in Our Stars is a novel that will make you laugh, cry, and re-examine the boundaries of your life.

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