Several years ago, I worked at an art gallery here in Anchorage. Though I loved the art, I wasn’t much good at selling it. More often than not, I just chatted up the customers, who were from all over the world.
One night, four elderly people wandered in. They told me they were from a tiny island off the coast of southern England called “Guernsey”. I’d never heard of it, so they proudly explained it was the only part of British soil that had been occupied by the Nazis during World War II. The island was occupied for a long five years; an experience to which they had all been witnesses. At that moment, Guernsey was marked in my mind.
Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrow’s new book, “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society” is an opportunity to travel back in time to 1946 Guernsey.
Beginning early 1946 in London, Juliet Ashton, a British writer, and former war journalist, is emerging from the ashes of the war to rebuild her life and her identity. She has lost her home and all her possessions, most regrettably her book collection. Out of the blue, she responds to correspondence started by a resident of Guernsey, who has managed to obtain a second-hand book once owned by Juliet, in which she had long ago written her name and address. Through this initial contact, Juliet meets an entire community, and the course of her life is redirected.
Easily reminiscent of Helene Hanff’s epistolary classic, “84 Charing Cross Road”, the novel is written in the epistolary style. Shaffer and Barrow skillfully use this medium to successfully establish their characters and a solid storyline.
Charming, funny, sweet, and thoughtful, “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society” is a story that women might find more appealing than men. Yet, it is unflinching in its wartime recollections. The deprivations and devastation of the time are imaginatively and convincingly conveyed.
At its core, this is a book about the love of reading, and the magic of books.
I highly, highly recommend “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society”.