Published by The Dial Press on July 29th 2008
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In 1946, writer Juliet Ashton finds inspiration for her next book in her correspondence with a native of Guernsey, who tells her about the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, a book club born as an alibi during German occupation.
I’m a history fanatic, but if a book’s about war, it generally needs to be pre-20th century for me. A War of the Roses story, and I am glued, telling myself it was long ago and far away, even somehow romanticizing it. A story about WWI or any war thereafter – well, I am simply uninterested in a reminder we’ve evolved no further than Cro-Magnon man regarding warfare. So, when I got The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (“GLPPPS”) as a gift, it sat unread for a year — until I read 84 Charing Cross Road, another story told through letter exchange. Sensing the letter connection, the Amazon spy machine recommended GLPPPS, and I finally gave it a go. This is a sparkling little gem of a story spun around an interesting, little known tidbit of World War II history which puts human faces on both sides of the conflict. An added bonus: a new destination on my travel wish list.
If I ever knew part of England was occupied by German forces, I promptly forgot it, so the historical background of the Channel Islands’ occupation piqued my curiosity. Within the post-war letters flying to and fro between main character Juliet Ashton and Guernsey residents, co-authors Mary Ann Schaffer and Annie Barrow subtly weave the story of the German occupation through the eyes of the Guernsey residents. With the only help coming from the British government being the evacuation of Guernsey’s children to the mainland, Guernsians were cut off from England and their children and left to fend for themselves. The antics of these brave, resourceful Britons in surviving and sometimes outwitting the Germans are a joy to read about, including the totally unexpected manner in which the Literary Society came to be.
All the characters stories were compelling, but I particularly appreciated the love story between Guernsey resident Elizabeth and a German soldier. Living part-time in Germany, I have grown to love this country and its people, and am always upset when I see stupid remarks on blogs or elsewhere regarding Germany and its Nazi past. I have always believed a Holocaust could happen anywhere, given the right circumstances. In fact, many might claim we’ve had our own in the form of past treatment of Native Americans and slavery. So our sense of superiority regarding this dark history amazes me. This love story really brings home the fact that ordinary, everyday Germans were victims of Hitler also and were no different from you or me, but simply caught up in the insanity.
Finally, there is the setting for the story. Once in a while, a story’s locale captures my imagination, being as in the novel as any of the author’s living, breathing personalities. Of course, I have heard of the Channel Islands between, the largest of which are Guernsey and Jersey, but I never considered them as a possible travel destination. However, being transported into the island’s unique history, as well as pondering its peculiar position as part of England and yet so separate and different, have made me determined to see this island of Guernsey someday. And what better endorsement of a book can there be?