The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows (Adult Historical Fiction)
Juliet Ashton is tired of writing under the name of Izzy Bickerstaff and no longer wants to be considered a light-hearted journalist. She wants to create something meaningful, but has no idea where to find inspiration…until a letter comes. It’s a kind note from a Mr. Dawsey Adams of St. Martin’s, Guernsey who found her name and address written on the inside front cover of a book written by his favorite author, Charles Lamb. He asks if she could kindly send him the name and address of other bookshops in London (for there aren’t any left on Guernsey after the war) so that he may acquire more Lamb books? Through several letters, Juliet begins to learn more about Guernsey and its famed Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society and she has questions. Questions such as how could a pig begin a literary society and what exactly is a potato peel pie? Perhaps this is the inspiration that Juliet has been looking for?
I admit I was in Heaven while reading this book—a book about people who love books. What’s not to like? It also doesn’t hurt that the writing was witty and sharp, the characters were endearingly flawed and humorously relatable, and the story had an equal mix of quirky, sadness, drama, humor, treachery, suspense, and yes, love. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is a touching and bittersweet book about the residents of Guernsey during the German occupation of the Channel Islands during WWII. Through the stories of the island’s residents, as well as a few of the prison camp survivors, we get a glimpse of the toll that the destruction, separation, and isolation had on the human psyche. We are also given stories of bravery, selflessness, and heroism, which illustrates the strength of the human spirit even during the darkest of times.
What started out as a ruse to prevent dinner guests from being arrested by German soldiers, the literary society ended up showing its members how much power a book possesses. Books can motivate, educate, inspire, entertain, and transport us to worlds far beyond our borders and imagination. For the members of the Guernsey literary society, a book turned a fisherman into a Casanova, saved a man from a life of inebriation, allowed a collector to find his faith, and bridged two very unlikely friendships.
I was a little wary when I discovered that this book consisted entirely of letters. Would it have the same depth and weight of a typical novel? O me, of little faith. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is a descriptive, warm, engaging, and satisfying read that will make you long for village life and allow you to believe in love again. And while this book reminds us that life is often tragic and history sometimes reveals the worst in humankind, it also shows us how resilient the human spirit is and how expansive our hearts can be when the need arises.
Just as a particular song might come on the radio when you need it most or the perfect meme pops up on your Facebook feed that strikes a certain chord, I believe a book acts in the same capacity. It finds us—chooses us—and makes us think, challenge, defend, or dream while allowing us to imagine, escape, explore, or be comforted. The perfect book always seems to find us at just the right time and it changes us somehow. And when it does, WE then become the conduit and pass it along to someone in need of a good laugh, cry, or shriek. Books are indeed powerful. As Juliet wrote in one of her letters to Dawsey, “Perhaps there is some secret sort of homing instinct in books that brings them to their perfect readers. How delightful if that were true.” Maybe as delightful as a potato peel pie? I’ll let you decide.
*Book cover image attributed to www.amazon.com
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