Monday, August 17, 2009

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

9th July, 1946
Dear Sidney,
I knew it! I knew you'd love Guernsey. The next-best thing to being here myself was having you here -- even for such a short visit. I'm happy that you know all m friends now, and they you. I'm particularly happy you enjoyed Kit's company so much. I regret to tell you that some of her fondness for you is due to your present, Elspeth the Lisping Bunny. Her admiration for Elspeth has caused her to take up lisping, and I am sorry to say, she is very good at it.
Dawsey just brought Kit home -- they have been visiting his new piglet. Kit asked if I was writing to Thidney. When I say yes, she said, "Thay I want him to come back thoon." Do you see what I mean about Elspeth?
Love, Juliet

Writer Juliet Ashton is living in London shortly after the Second World War when she receives a note from Dawsey Adams, a native of the British Channel Island of Guernsey (like the cows!) He saw her name written in a used book he bought and admired it so much that he looked Juliet up to tell her so. And so begins a correspondance between Juliet and the denizens of Guernsey - some of them anyway, mostly the members of a curious club called the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. The book is an epistolary novel telling about the very real occupation of Guernsey and the other Channel Islands by Hitler's army in WWII. The letters describe various hardships, kindnesses and acts of heroism on the island during the five-year occupation. They are written directly to Juliet, who is planning to write an article, and then a book, on the occupation. She eventually becomes a pen pal to practically the entire island.

Each of the topics covered in the letters from the Guernseyites to Juliet is related to something that actually happened in the war. The book is fiction but the starvation endured by the islanders, the curfews and strict punishments imposed by the Germans, the concentration camps in Poland that islanders were occassionally sent to, and even the sending away of all the island's children just prior to the occupation were all factual events. Only the personal lives of the Guernsey inhabitants are totally ficitionalized.

The letters find Juliet at a crossroads in her life; 32 and alone, she is practically a spinster by 1940s English standards. She has recently begun dating a roguish American who admires her good looks and fine pedigree and not much else about her. Her paramour is not pleased by Juliet's decision to move to Guernsey to research her book, which has increasingly revolved around the life of one woman. Elizabeth McKenna was the center of the Literary Society in Guernsey, until she was imprisoned in a concentration camp in Europe for hiding a young Polish boy from the Germans occupying the island. There, she dies after striking an overseer for beating another woman.

When Juliet moves to Guernsey she finds herself spending more and more time with the island batchelor Dawsey Adams and Elizabeth's orphan daughter Kit. At book's end, Juliet dumps the American, marries Dawsey and they adopt Kit. Hurray!

This book was a super quick read, partly because it was an engaging novel, and partly because I was in Honduras. Sadly, the original author died before the book was published. Her niece finished it and published the book.

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