January 1946: writer Juliet Ashton receives a letter from a stranger, a founding member of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. And so begins a remarkable tale of the island of Guernsey during the German occupation, and of a society as extraordinary as its name. The letters comprising this novel begin in 1946, when single, 30-something author Juliet Ashton (nom de plume Izzy Bickerstaff) writes to her publisher to say she is tired of covering the sunny side of war and its aftermath. When Guernsey farmer Dawsey Adams finds Juliet's name in a used book and invites articulate--and not-so-articulate--neighbors to write Juliet with their stories, the book's epistolary circle widens, putting Juliet back in the path of war stories. The letters jump from person to person and incident to incident, including the formation of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society while Guernsey was under German occupation.
As her quirky, loveable characters cite the works of Shakespeare, Austen, and the Brontës, Shaffer subtly weaves those writers' themes into her own narrative. However, it is the tragic stories of life under Nazi occupation that animate the novel and give it its urgency.
During World War II, the Germans occupied Guernsey in the Channel Islands, so close to France that, apparently, you could see cars on the highway on a clear day. The Germans built heavy fortifications against the islanders, built a concentration camp on Guernsey, and Guernsey's children were evacuated to England.
Juliet lives in a London that was decimated by war; her apartment by the Thames has been lost, as well as all of her books (as you can imagine, horrifying). But her career as a writer is going well, and she has a potential love interest: the handsome and rich Mark. But Juliet's life changes as she receives more and more letters from the Guernsey Islanders, and she decides that she just might have to pay them a visit.
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is written in letter form, between not only Julia and her new friends, but her best friend from childhood and her brother (who also happens to be Juliet's publisher). It reminds me a lot of 84 Charing Cross Road (also written in letter form). Each member of the cast of this book has his or her own unique voice. Some of the stories told in this book are tragic; some are funny.
Most critics agreed that, with its humor and optimism, Guernsey "affirms the power of books to nourish people during hard times" (Washington Post). This was Mary Ann Shaffer's first and only book, and sadly, she died before publication of the book.
I listened to the cdbook version of this book. It had six British actors and actresses reading the different letters. This made the characters spring to life for me and made it even more enjoyable. Before reading this book, I was not aware that the islands had been occupied by the Germans and that they were that close to France and England.
This book is a gem that historical and literary fiction readers will adore.
Recommended by Susan Schmid