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Jennifer Ryan’s The Kitchen Front is an entertaining and educational read about British food restrictions during World War 2 and how people, mostly women, coped with feeding their families.
There are plenty of books about World War 2 and even women in World War 2. The picks tap into the World War 2 British home front, how rationing affected people, related food writing, and the home front in occupied countries (with the U.K. never was). You can read more about The Kitchen Front here, and find the best book club guide ever here!
Further Reading for Topics Related to The Kitchen Front
Home Fires: The Story of the Women’s Institute in the Second World War by Julie Summers
A nonfiction Account of how actual British women got through the war at home
Home Fires is a social history, not a novel, but there is a PBS/BBC series that added characters and narrative, which you will like if you liked Call the Midwife, which is based on a wonderful 4-book series of memoirs.
2. 1984 by George Orwell
What rationing feels like after a decade
1984, which is a pretty heavy dystopian novel, might seem like a strange follow up to a novel like The Kitchen Front, but 1984 was written in 1948, three years after the end of World War 2 partly in reaction to continued shortages and heavy handed government controls in the U.K. Orwell saw the British government as not very different from the Fascist government the Allies defeated and the Soviet government, while not an enemy of the U.K. in the War, quickly became the enemy as the Cold War erupted.
When I read The Kitchen Front, I was surprised by how controlling the government was. I had no idea that women were being conscripted for service at home, and I also didn’t realize that people were assigned lodgers, and even child boarders, without volunteering.
Of course, the U.K. had much bigger domestic problems than the U.S. because their infrastructure was so damaged by the extended bombing they suffered and the European supply chain was disrupted, where in contrast, the United States and the rest of North America had no damage at all.
Reading The Kitchen Front helped me understand how Orwell and others clearly felt after the War.
3. A Square Meal: A Culinary History of the Great Depression by Jane Ziegelman and Andrew Coe
More Food History of Tough Times
During World War 2, especially in the U.K., supplies were limited but people had money to pay for whatever was available. During the Great Depression, especially in the U.S., food was plentiful…in fact, some agricultural products were destroyed because they were TOO plentiful…but many people struggled to have enough money to buy their food.
This highly engaging social issue shows how people kept their families healthy through the worst economic crisis the U.S. has ever had.
If you enjoy this type of book, also try Ziegelman’s 97 Orchard: An Edible History of Five Immigrant Families in One New York Tenement, which is an innovative food history following the eating habits of different families lived in one tenement as both eating styles and the families’ nationality of origin evolved.
3. Dutch Girl: Audrey Hepburn and World War 2 by Robert Matzen
The World War 2 European Home Front Under Nazi Occupation
Dutch Girl is a biography that reads like a thriller (novel), which is an amazing feat considering that we all know Audrey Hepburn survived. You don’t need to be an Audrey Hepburn fan to want to read this book: it is an amazingly well researched narrative, endorsed by Hepburn’s son, about Hepburn’s wartime experiences in the Netherlands. It shows what life in the United Kingdom would have been like if the U.K. had fallen to Nazi forces.
Please add your recommendations below!