Most often we review and herald newly published books in this column, but that isn’t a requirement. “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society” was published a few years ago and is a jewel of a book. Less than 300 pages, it’s an entertaining read full of drama, wit, history and charm.
It chronicles the remarkable tale of the World War II German occupation of Guernsey, one of the British Channel Islands. The residents were not allowed to hold meetings to discuss the vagaries of this occupation so being resourceful they organized a literary society to discuss books and reinforce their sense of solidarity. As the war wore on, food supplies became scarce. One of the creative islanders concocted a pie of potato peels to serve at the gatherings.
There is a seemingly rich, unending supply of books about WW II, and I’m relishing reading many of them. This one is a favorite and is interesting from start to finish. It’s fiction, but it made me want to meet these people, know them better and, most of all, join this club full of characters as extraordinary as its name. Two of the main characters, Elizabeth and Juliet, are gutsy heroines. There’s intrigue (the island IS occupied by a very unfriendly bunch of guys), romance, joy and sadness. It’s a fascinating look at how people lived in the 1940s on this small island where there were few secrets. They carried on with their lives, even doing heroic things, in a difficult situation.
“A poignant, funny novel that celebrates the resilience of the human spirit. This one is a treat,” wrote the reviewer for the Boston Globe.
Mary Ann Shaffer, an editor, librarian and bookseller, died shortly after writing this book and before editing began. Her niece, Annie Barrows, the author of children’s books, took up the mantle and completed the task.