I love books with female protagonists. If a book has a female central character and the story revolves around a book club as well, then no kid can attempt to divert my attention from it with his/her cuteness! This happened as I read “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society” written by Annie Barrows and Mary Ann Shaffer. It was about a woman, Juliet Ashton, a writer in her early 30s,just after the end of WWII, in search of an idea for her next book. As she restores her life from the rubble of a ruined London, she receives a letter from Dawsey Adams, a man from Guernsey, in search of a book written by Charles Lamb(He finds her name and address written in one of his books). She procures the book for him and begins correspondence with him and through him the other members of “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society”. An unusual name for a book club, isn’t it? Intrigued, Juliet wants to learn more about them.
As she delves deeper into their lives, she unravels the origin of their book club and learns about Elizabeth McKenna, the woman who gave birth to the society. Through the letters from the Islanders, Juliet learns that Guernsey Island had been under German Occupation during the second world war. Their stories of hardship and sorrow sow a seed of an idea in her mind for her next writing material. She falls in love with the people that correspond with her (except a Miss Adelaide Addison, who abhors the society and its members!). On an impulse she decides to visit the Island. From the moment she spots St. Peter Port (capital of Guernsey) “rising up from the sea on terraces, with a church on the top like a cake decoration, and I realized that my heart was galloping”(pg. 159), she is enamored. She goes about interviewing people about the Germans and realizes how each story leads to Elizabeth McKenna, who has been sent to a German prison for helping a slave worker.
This book is a compilation of letters exchanged between Juliet and the members of the Literary Society as well as her publisher Sidney Stark. Even though it is just letters, you won’t miss a thing. The plot is linear and gives the whole story.I loved the idea of a bunch of letters conveying a story.
Juliet not only finds idea and material for her next book but also finds the love of her life. I sped through the book to know the ending, which I haven’t done in a long long time. A novel that keeps me hooked amidst the distractions and disturbances caused during the rearing of 2 active children is so hard to come across. I had to navigate a few bumps which caused me to pause and think about German atrocities. How could they inflict such pain on a large scale?!Did I know the German authorities made no arrangements for menstruating women- no soap, no extra clothes- and just mocked away as they bled? No! It just tore my heart and made me desperate to hug them. And how the slave workers (called Todt workers) were treated! They were made to work without food and were let out from camps at night to beg or steal food. Abominable! Such things were hard to fathom but I read anyway. I can’t keep evading hard realities and be. satisfied with the rosy picture.
The rosy part about the book was learning about Elizabeth McKenna. She was an epitome of strength, positive spirit and kindness in the face of such barbarism. Also, the society, their love of books, the discussions they had and the members themselves were a pleasure to read about. I’d love to read it again (& again), slowly, this time , absorbing every little detail.