Review by Leah Cooper
Recently I was standing by the front desk at Jefferson Carnegie Library, having just checked out a book to review for this column. Michele Otstott walked by and pointed to a book on display, commenting on what a great book it was.
I went home with “The Lost Wife” but kept thinking about the book Michele had remarked upon, “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society” by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. I had seen the book’s title before but had never given it a thought.
What was it, then, that made it stand out to Michele through all the myriad of books she has read? Next time I was in the library, I had to check it out.I quickly discovered “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society” was not a light-hearted story about a women’s book club, though there is a group of men and women readers at the center of the novel.
Guernsey is an island in the England Channel, off the coast of Normandy, France. It was occupied by German soldiers during much of World War II. Just before the Germans invaded in 1940, most of the children were evacuated to England.
The novel is set in 1946, as Guernsey is trying to find some sort of normalcy again. But the story begins in 1941, when some friends are stopped by German soldiers for breaking curfew. One quickly blurts out they are returning from a meeting of their book club.
They are allowed to proceed, but realize they must act quickly if their excuse is to stand up to scrutiny in the light of day. Thus they gathered their neighbors and formed the Guernsey Literary Society, later adding Potato Peel Pie to their name in deference to an innovative dessert devised to make use of the scant ingredients available during the occupation.
The story is told through letters, telegrams and notes between Juliet Ashton, a writer in England; her editor Sidney; Sidney’s sister Sophie in Scotland; her American fiancé Mark and a number of Guernsey islanders. (I learned this style makes it an epistolary novel. No charge for the vocabulary word of the day.)
This turned out to be a very effective way for the author to reveal the events that led into 1946, much as one can peel an onion, layer by layer, or open a Matryoshka Russian Wooden Nesting Doll. With each revelation, I wanted to know more about these people and the secrets they hid.
If you, too, want to get to know these characters and what happens to them, stop by Jefferson Carnegie Library and check out “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.” The book has also been made into a movie, available in the U.S. through Netflix.
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