Posted by: istop4books | February 18, 2009

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

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer

My review


rating: 5 of 5 stars
For a book with such a complicated name, the nature of the stories told within the letters that are the basis for the book are quite simple and straightforward.

It’s a book written as a series of letters between Juliet, a young English writer, her publisher Sydney, her London friends, and some folks she befriends on the island of Guernsey. The year is 1946, WWII has just ended, but the aftermath of horror, devastation and loss is still present in everyone’s lives.

Juliet mails a book as a gift to a fan of hers on Guernsey in the Channel Islands, and thus begins a correspondence friendship which fosters a curiosity into the lives of the inhabitants. Juliet had little knowledge of what had transpired during the war years on the island and through letters we learn  that the Germans occupied and took complete control of the island for 5 years, cutting off all communication with the outside world.   During those five years, the inhabitants lost track of their loved ones, their sons and daughters, had no idea of which way the war was going and had no supplies.  Their radios were confiscated, phone lines cut, and all post was stopped.   They were indeed completely isolated. While the islanders did not suffer air raids, and didn’t seem to live through the chaos of Europe at the time, they share their stories of hardship and friendship, of strength and betrayal, with Juliet and through the unique experiences of these quirky, lovable characters, we learn a bit of the forgotten history and untold stories of the people of Guernsey.

While they suffered privations of food, clothing and fuel and all types of basic necessities like soap, electricity and cooking oil, a group of islanders form a literary group of sorts and in this way distract themselves. Books and friendships get them through the five years of isolation. They come together and share what little food they have, and they begin to foster a love of books. The group is a source of strength, they are able to share in their lonliness, and gives them a pleasant event to look forward to.

That was a quick, delightful and at times sad read! I very much enjoyed the letter format, and learning the stories of the inhabitants of Guernsey Island during the German occupation was fascinating. I thought the format was brilliant in that events were laid out bit by bit, the narrators were varied, and the characters were simple folk, yet complex. I wound up googling Guernsey and learned a lot about the island and the history, I saw an online tourist brochure and got a very good feel for all the areas mentioned in the book. It turns out Guernsey was quite controversial as there were rumors that many islanders cozied up to the Germans and befriended them during the occupation. The authors dealt with this topic sensitively.

It this a deep, dense WWII book, full of suffering and atrocities? No. It is indeed light, at times humorous, most of its characters are easy going. But what could have been “WWII light,” just isn’t that light. As the stories spill out from the characters, some remembering in detail, others trying to forget, we do get a glimpse into a different facet of the war, of the role of books, neighbors and friendships, and of a couple of Germans and islanders just caught up in an unforgivable war.

View all my reviews.


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