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A war novel is a novel that takes place during some form of fighting. In these books, the primary action happens during armed combat. Other war novels take place on the home front. The characters may be busy getting ready for or recovering from war. It is sometimes called military fiction.
There have been war novels and other stories about war for many thousands of years. In Ancient Greece and Rome and the Middle Ages, people wrote epic poems about the glory of war. Some of the most famous epic poems are The Iliad by Homer, The Aeneid by Virgil, the Old English saga Beowulf, and the legends of King Arthur.
Another important influence of war novels are tragedies (plays about human suffering.) Euripides, Seneca the Younger, Christopher Marlowe, and William Shakespeare wrote plays that are important influences on war novels. Shakespeare's play Henry V has many features of a war novel. It has history and military tactics, and it talks about the ethics of war.
The genres of romance and satire are also important. These works, especially in Early Modern Europe, show military heroism and folly (foolishness). Some important examples are The Faerie Queen by Edmund Spenser and Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes.
The themes and symbols found in modern war novels are also influenced by older works. In The Inferno, Dante described Hell in a way that is very close to how war is described in war novels. Other influences are John Milton's Paradise Lost and the Apocalypse in the Book of Revelation in the Bible.
The first war novels were from the 1600s. At that time fiction novels written in prose (instead of poetry) were becoming popular. These early war novels were usually satires and picaresque novels. The soldier was usually a rogue and not very realistic. One example is Simplicissimus by Hans Jakob Christoffel von Grimmelshausen. Simplicissimus is a semi-autobiographical novel (based on the author's life) about the Thirty Years' War.
19th century war novels
World War I and after
War novels from this time included the experiences of trench warfare, but also began to tell the stories of what happened at home during the war. Many novels were written about the war. Writers were from countries on all sides of the conflict.
The 1920s saw the so-called "war book boom," during which many men who had fought during the war were finally ready to write openly and critically about their war experiences. In 1929, Erich Maria Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front was a massive, worldwide bestseller. Also significant were Ernest Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms (1929), Richard Aldington's Death of a Hero (1929), Arnold Zweig's The Case of Sergeant Grischa (1927), Charles Yale Harrison's Generals Die in Bed (1930) and William March's Company K (1933).
World War II and after
Many novels came out of soldiers' and peoples' experiences during World War II. These books were not only by European authors, but also by people around the world.
Japanese war novels
Just after the war ended, Sakaguchi Ango (坂口安吾) published a book called Idiocy (白痴) about the strange life in Japan after the bombing and losing the war. There were many novels aout the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, including: Summer Flowers (夏の花) by Hara Tamiki (原 民喜) in 1947 and Black Rain (黒い雨) by Ibuse Masuji (井伏鱒二). There were also novels about being part of the kamikaze. The 1949 book Last Friends (きけ、わだつみの声) was about a group of soldiers leaving for the front. It was a best-seller. Around 1970 another type of novel began to appear. Ordinary people wrote about their experiences of battles and air raids. Novels about the many different ways the war ended also began to appear and tell being left behind in China or becoming prisoners of the Soviet Union in Siberia.
Vietnam and after
Many Americans and Vietnamese authors wrote books during or after this long war.