Friday, January 28, 2022

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society



by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
Published by The Dial Press, a member of Random House, inc. 2008

No one could ever say the German occupation of the Channel Islands in 1940-1945 was funny, but authors Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows (after Ms. Shaffer was too ill to finish the novel) managed to pull off the impossible paradox. This novel is truly a delight.

Juliet Ashton was an accomplished writer for the Times of London. Her column had been such a success she was now on tour, selling her collection of works while traveling throughout England signing autographs and corresponding with her dear friend Sophie, and Sidney Stark, her publicist. She first became acquainted with The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society in 1945, when she received an innocent enough letter from a man on Guernsey Island who had somehow come across her name and address in a book that had once belonged to her. Since the bookstores on the island had been destroyed by the Germans, the writer of the letter, Dawsey Adams, inquired about purchasing other books by his beloved author, Charles Lamb. He said he was a member of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. Intrigued by the letter and curious about the strange name of the book club, Juliet formed a pen pal relationship with Adams and, later, with all the other members of the group.

There are really two main characters in the novel, Juliet Ashton and Elizabeth McKenna, who shared innumerable qualities. Both loved books. Both were opinionated, shared a spunky spirit, and could swing a mean punch. These women were the binding ties that connected a group of unusual characters known as the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. And they both shared the love of a precocious little girl with brown curly locks and grey eyes.

“The Society” came to be because of a roast pig and Elizabeth’s quick wit when she declared the existence of the organization as a ruse for the Germans. Elizabeth pulled her friends together and blessed them with the love of books. Through this group of unlikely friends, bonds were formed that brought them through the horrors of the evacuation of the children from the island, the deliberate starvation of the Todt slave workers, and the rape of their land and resources during the occupation. Still this book is not about the war, but rather about the unions formed during, and the recuperation after, the war.

The entire composition is an exchange of letters and telegrams from each of these extraordinary individuals. Through the assortment of these letters you can hear their voices, envision each one of them, and witness the heroism these Guernsey islanders displayed in the face of the enemy. But even more impressive, you will laugh with them. Humor was the healing antidote for those terrible times. Shaffer and Barrows are gifted writers that made each letter gifted as well. I read it through, then turned back to page one and read it again. Now that I knew the characters, I wanted to hear them speak again through their letters. This is a “book lover’s book”. It will make you want to look up authors you had not thought of in years. It will entice you to dust off the classics and give them another try. Perhaps the most intriguing novel I have read this year, I put this one at the top of my “best” list.

Joanne Tailele has been a full time resident of Marco Island for two years. Born in Youngstown, her last “home” for 12 years was Columbus, Ohio. Between Joanne and her husband, she has six children and nine grandchildren. She works as receptionist for a local real estate company.

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