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Potatoe Peel Pie and some light reading

March 29, 2010
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I had to call a ‘mom afternoon’ today, and instead of napping to get through these icks, I read. I’ve been reading “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society” by Mary Ann Shaffer and Anne Barrows. It’s lovely. And that says a lot. Especially since, in the beginning, I was ready to throw it out for plagiarizing one of my favorite books, “84 Charing Cross Road” by Helene Hanff. It didn’t. But the first couple of letters were really ‘familiar’.

I’m fascinated by WWII life stories, but had never even realized that the Channel Islands had been occupied by the Germans during WWII. This story begins with a writer who is a bit lost after the end of WWII, and finds herself at odds with the literary character that fronts her life. She is surprised by a letter from a man, Dawsey, from Guernsey, who is looking for information on a book, using her as a reference because he found an old book of hers in a used shop in the island. Writing back and forth, Juliet uncovers an amazing story about the inhabitants of said island, and their lives during the occupation. After hearing about the Society, she longs for more information, and begins corresponding with many of the members and citizens – about their lives, their experiences, their fears, their hopes. She decides to travel to the island in hopes of writing a new book that is more meaningful than her future seems to hold, and in that visit, her future changes after meeting all of her new friends.

The authors used family story and research to bring together fictitious people to tell the story of how the Channel Islands were Germany’s first hope to conquer England during the war, and the lengths that their government went to degrade humanity. From work-prisoners who are allowed out of their cages at night to forage for whatever food they can find, starving military men who are not wanting to be where this life has brought them, island-folk hiding what little life they have left so as not to be stolen from them, parents without children who have been shipped off to safety in England; children without parents who have been sent to the interment camps for taking care of another human, to citizens who turn against other citizens for favor from their captives.

In the course, Juliet befriends Elizabeth, a woman whom she has never met, but has only heard from through the members of the Guernsey society, and whose child she becomes the guardian of while Elizabeth is being held prisoner for deeds unimaginable to the German military – caring for another sick human being. Juliet stays at Elizabeth’s cottage while doing research for book, and learns about the power of the human spirit, even when life is at its lowest.

Even when this sounds so oppressive, the book is actually light, easy to read, full of a bit of local history as well as some really colorful characters. It’s made up of letters written back and forth from Juliet to her best friend, to her publisher, to the islanders, and back. It’s a lovely book, and one I won’t soon forget.

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