Kim’s review of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society > Likes and Comments

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message 1: by Karlyne (new)

Karlyne Landrum I read this a couple of years ago, and I... HAHA! won't tell you what I thought of it until you're finished...!

message 2: by Booklovinglady (new)

Booklovinglady I liked the humor in the book. Like Karlyne, I won't say more till you've finished :-)

message 3: by Hannah (new)

Hannah I'm just not a fan of epistolary novels, but I should probably try this one of these days. Thanks for a great review.

message 4: by Jane (new)

Jane I need to dig this out and read it. It's either on the Shelf of Shame behind some of the other books, or in my 20yo's bedroom. Thanks for giving me a nudge in its direction.

message 5: by Lisa (new)

Lisa Vegan Kim, Incredibly excellent review of this book! I learned a lot about the Channel Islands from the book, and now more from your review. I should also read up on them some more.

message 6: by Booklovinglady (last edited May 11, 2012 07:06AM) (new)

Booklovinglady Hi Kim,

Now that you’ve finished the novel, I will go into it in a bit more detail.

I gave the novel a three star rating because I really liked the humour in it. And I liked putting the pieces of the puzzle together while reading more and more of the letters. I read the book because an Australian penpal recommended it to me and she was right to recommend it, because as I said, on the whole I liked it. But what rubbed me up the wrong way though, was the way the German occupation of Guernsey was described. (And believe me, I’m not at all sure I should try to explain my feelings here...)

As to WWII and the description of the German occupation of Guernsey, I had to keep reminding myself that the novel was written by an American author and not by someone who had actually lived in occupied territory (or by someone who had taken the time and effort to research this extensive subject properly). And yes, I do realize I might be either biased or oversensitive, or both, when it comes to this, but the United States have not been occupied territory during WWII. The Channel Islands, like most European countries, were occupied territory though. As the novel is partly set in Guernsey, I’m not debating the fact that the German occupation of Guernsey should be mentioned in the novel. But what really annoyed me was the way the author talked about what had been happening in Guernsey during the war. On the one hand it made me feel as if the people in Guernsey were the only ones in Europe who had a ‘bad time’ during the war (yes, I know, this is an understatement) while in fact the situation has been far worse in other parts of Europe. On the other hand, it gave me the distinct feeling that the author hadn’t researched this subject properly because the situation in Guernsey was described rather ‘lightly’.

And then there’s the fact that I’m Dutch, of course. Both my parents were born before WWII, which means their generation, as well as the generation of my grandparents, told me their stories of what it was like in the Netherlands during this period. And when I say they told me what it was like, I’m talking about German bombs (V1 and V2) meant for England but falling down on The Hague where my mum and my maternal grandparents lived, family members in hiding because they would have been sent to Germany otherwise, people starving from hunger, bombs meant for the Fokker aerospace factory in Amsterdam but coming down in the wrong place and killing relatives who owned a bakery just across the street from where my dad and my paternal grandparents lived, and so on and so forth. And that’s just ‘personal’ history. I’m certain this is what made me so annoyed (biased? oversensitive?) by the author’s description of the German occupation of Guernsey.

The reason why I still gave this book three stars is partly because I really liked the humour and partly because I kept reminding myself that WWII probably, in all honesty, couldn’t have been described differently by the author, as it would have completely changed the tone of the novel and I doubt that would have been the intension of the author. On the other hand, there is still this nagging little feeling at the back of my head, telling me that things might have been handled differently and should have been researched better…

message 7: by Jane (new)

Jane Booklovinglady, I'm from England originally and also got plenty of WWII stories from my parents (who were children when the war started). I even remember that there were still bomb sites when I was a little kid - in the 60s, 20 years after the war ended, which means the economy had still not completely recovered by then!

I've no gripe against the American view of WWII (would we have won without them?) but I agree that there's a considerable lack of understanding about how conditions were for ordinary Europeans during the conflict. It was only when I read a remarkable social history of the war (pretty sure it was this one) that I realized just how devastated my parents' lives must have been (despite the remarkable fact that no-one in their large families was killed) and their stories all became much more tragic and alive to me. I got them to record their memories and transcribed them - I know the BBC has done a similar project lately with many elderly English people.

message 8: by Jemidar (new)

Jemidar The thing that always strikes me is just how bad conditions were even when the war was over and how long it took to rebuild. The suffering certainly didn't end with the war!

message 9: by Kim (new)

Kim Booklovinglady wrote: "But what rubbed me up the wrong way though, was the way the German occupation of Guernsey was described. (And believe me, I’m not at all sure I should try to explain my feelings here...)..."

I'm so so glad that you commented on your reaction to the novel, Booklovinglady, and I understand your reservations. Anyone who is only a generation removed from the direct personal experience of occupation by a foreign power and all that represents has a quite different and important perspective to bring to a narrative which deals with that issue.

I didn't take it that the author wanted to represent that conditions were worse in Guernsey during the German occupation than they were elsewhere in Europe. However, I take your point about her research. The very minor issue I raised about adoption laws brought home to me the problems with research. It seemed to me at the time that if the research was faulty on that one issue, it could just as easily be deficient in relation to others.

Overall, I think that this novel is rather too fluffy in concept and excecution to do justice to some of its themes. It has its good points, but the way in which the German occupation and its consequences are portrayed is not one of them.

message 10: by Kim (new)

Kim Jane wrote: "I even remember that there were still bomb sites when I was a little kid - in the 60s, 20 years after the war ended, which means the economy had still not completely recovered by then!..."

Jane, I first went to England in the late 1960s when I was about twelve. I remember being on the train from Dover to London and seeing all the bombed-out sites along the railway line. My father explained the reason for this to me and I can still remember how struck I was. It was the closest I had been to the effects of a war about which I had heard no personal stories other than those of my grandfather who had been in the Army in Borneo.

I spent my teenage years in an area of Sydney which had at that time a high Jewish refugee population. Yiddish was the language other than English most commonly heard in the streets and you saw many people in the neighbourhood with concentration camp tatoos. Three-quarters of the students at my high school were the children or grandchildren of these refugees. That was when I started really hearing about what had happened during the war. However, I've always been aware that I'm several steps removed from the direct experience and my reactions are affected by that distance.

message 11: by Gary (new)

Gary  the Bookworm Hi Kim,

I also responded to the charm of the characters. I'm reading a new book by John Irving who also has a gift for creating memorable and unusual characters. There is something to be said for entering into these imaginary worlds. Somehow they seem more humane and I find that comforting.

SUSAN   *Nevertheless,she persisted* Great review, I really enjoyed this book as well.

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