Summer…So many thoughts flood our mind at the mention of the word. Longer days. No more school (usually). Family vacation. Road trips. Reunions. Abundant fruits and vegetables. Cookouts. For our family, all the years our children were in school, wherever we were in the world, summer also meant a reading program. We always got a head-start on the books in their next reading level. That may sound like punishment, but it wasn’t. We all gained from each other’s reading. New characters, new places, mysteries and adventures, history unknown to us until we read about it in these books. Our summers were always marked by whatever we were reading – bookmarked.
The summer reading program is behind us all, but we still have an avid reader in our daughter. She continues to introduce our family to lovely stories, and such was the case with this strange-titled little book – The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.
Written by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows (an aunt and her niece), this little book is a historical fiction with some of the confounding twists of plot reminiscent of Jane Austen novels. This story is set in England, in 1946, shortly after the end of World War II. It focuses on the correspondence of a young writer, Juliet Ashton, and various people in her life, including her publisher, a childhood friend, a suitor, and a group of book club members on Guernsey Island.
During World War II, the tactical decision was made that the Channel Islands could not be protected from the Germans and therefore left on their own. They were occupied for most of the war by the German military. In fact, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society emerged in this isolated hardship situation.
“We clung to books and to our friends; they reminded us that we had another part to us.”
Through an odd turn of events, Juliet struck up a friendship with one of the island dwellers, and that friendship grew to include all of the remaining book club members as well as some of the other less literary islanders.
“It was so kind of you to write to me about your experiences during the Occupation. At the war’s end, I, too, promised myself that I had done with talking about it. I had talked and lived war for six years, and I was longing to pay attention to something – anything – else. But that is like wishing I were someone else. The war is now the story of our lives, and there’s no subtracting it.”
Through the letters between Juliet and her new-found friends, she was so moved by how they survived the German occupation, that she arranged a visit to Guernsey. The visit became a lengthy stay and her life was changed forever.
I loved this story. Historical fiction has never been my favorite because the details (intertwining the history of the period with the characters) usually wear me out in the reading. This story engaged my mind and heart so well that I could smell the salt air and feel the sea mist in my hair. Yet, the terror of war coupled with the consolation of friendship became as real as if I were there in that moment. It surprises me that Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows are not English (Mrs. Shaffer is from West Virginia) because they crafted the story as if it happened to them. It was deeply personal to them. Some of the beauty of the book could have come out of their love for each other, as Mrs. Shaffer’s failing health required Annie to finish the book for them both (published in 2008, after Mary Ann Shaffer died). What a legacy for them together…
The picture below is the first page of the book.
It alludes to the curious way Juliet Ashton, the leading character of the book, came into the lives of the Guernsey islanders. My daughter recommending this book to me in the long days of this summer gave me a similar experience. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society has marked not only my summer, but my life.
There is still time…don’t miss this book this summer. If you’ve had the pleasure of reading it, you know what I’m talking about.
“That’s what I love about reading: one tiny thing will interest you in a book, and that tiny thing will lead you onto another book, and another bit there will lead you onto a third book. It’s geometrically progressive—all with no end in sight, and for no other reason than sheer enjoyment.”