The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

Dear Sidney,

How comforting it was to hear you say, “God damn, oh God damn.” That’s the only honest thing to say, isn’t it? Elizabeth’s death is an abomination and it will never be anything else.

This short paragraph struck my heart, because it’s almost what my dad said when I told him that my mom had died. Everyone else was mostly sad for me, worried for me, and said kind things like, “I’m so sorry”, or “Oh, no”, or whatever wonderful and caring things they said. But my dad, he and my mom were part of their own group in High School, their own society that railed against the tyranny of school, wrote poetry, and so on. They were dear friends (obviously), and so his reaction when I told him that she had died was the honest and pained, “Shit.” I get that.  I agree with that.  And reading this book, I was reminded of it, not only because of the passage above, but because it’s how I felt about not being able to talk to her about it.

Shit. That’s the word that comes to mind. Because really, why couldn’t my mom have lived long enough to read this book? She would have adored it. She adored The Snow Goose, which is a parable based on the evacuation of Dunkirk during World War II. The Snow Goose is a sentimental, lovely story of courage, loss, and bravery. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is a clever, lovely story of courage, loss, and bravery.

I say clever because the writing is so dry and British, I just loved it.  Clever little quips and funny descriptions abound.

I’m as tender-hearted as the next girl, but dammit, if you don’t get back here soon, Charlie Stephens is going to have a nervous breakdown.  He’s not cut out for work; he’s cut out for handing over large wads of cash and letting you do the work.  He actually turned up at the office before ten o’clock yesterday, but the effort annihilated him.  He was deathly white by eleven, and had a whiskey at eleven-thirty.  At noon, one of his innocent young things handed him a jacket to approve – his eyes bulged with terror and he began that disgusting trick with his ear – he’s going to pull it right off one day.  He went home at one, and I haven’t sen him yet today (it’s four in the afternoon).

It is the time just following World War II, and writer Juliet Ashton lives in the ruins of London, still displaced from the apartment destroyed by the Nazi bombings. She is successful enough, mostly known for her columns written under a pseudonym during the war, columns published in the newspaper, which take a lighthearted look at events. The idea being that people are surrounded by pain and terror and separation, and might need a little distraction. Julia receives a letter from a gentleman on the island of Guernsey (off the Normandy Coast, one of the Channel Islands), telling her that he has come into possession of a book she once sold, and wondering if she might help him to find some more books by that same author, as Guernsey was somewhat brutally occupied by the Nazis during the war, and the bookshops sold their books to residents desperate for fuel, who ended up burning them. They strike up a friendship, and she becomes intrigued by his stories of life in Guernsey under the occupation, and of the literary society that was quickly formed to thwart the Nazis on the island.

The book is written entirely in the form of letters, letters between Juliet and her friends, her publisher, and the members of the literary society. I have to say, it was a quick, fun read, yet at the same time devastating in the stories of war and horror that it told. The stories of the cruelty of the Nazi regime, and yet the unexpected kindness of some of the Nazi soldiers…it touched my heart.

I’ll not go into it too deeply. Suffice to say that I am very glad I came across this book. My friend Kate, my mom’s dear friend Kate, recommended it to me based on a foolish Facebook quiz. Then less than a week later, I walked into our local Barnes and Noble, and saw that the book was chosen as part of our local, “One City, One Book” program, and I decided that enough people were telling me to read it. Besides, a kind neighbor had given me a gift card to B&N in her thanks for me watching her cat over the weekend.  Almost like the universe was telling me to read this book.  I’m glad I did.

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