The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows is, essentially, a love story. It’s a traditional love story to be sure, but more importantly, it is the story of a small island community composed of very disparate people who came together during the German occupation of World War II to protect, comfort, and in some cases, save one another. Therein lays the true story of love.
The novel is told through a series of letters sent between January and September 1946. In these letters and nine short months, a whole world of tragedy, deprivation, evil, camaraderie, humor, and love is revealed.
In his lust for land acquisition, Hitler sends troops onto the Guernsey Channel Islands in 1940 to hold them for the homeland until the war is over. It is during this, a five-year occupation, that we learn the story of Elizabeth, who, though missing from the island, is nevertheless central to the story.
It is Elizabeth who saves a group of her friends from serious punishment for a curfew violation by lying to the guards and telling them they are just leaving from a book club discussion.
A true book club is then born, becoming the center of community for the people living in Guernsey and who are suffering the starvation and humiliation of the occupation. It is this society that keeps sanity and hope alive. And, it is to this society that the protagonist, Juliet Ashton, is introduced serendipitously.
Living in London and a writer of some note, Juliet receives a letter from a man in Guernsey, Dawsey Adams, who has come in possession of a secondhand book by Charles Lamb with Juliet’s name and address inside. Dawsey loves Lamb and writes to Juliet in hopes that she can connect him with a bookstore in London that can provide him with more of Lamb’s books.
This letter begins a correspondence between Juliet and Dawsey that soon expands to others in the literary society and before long, Juliet decides she must come meet these people and travels to Guernsey. Here she finds a wide host of wonderful characters including, Kit, daughter of Elizabeth, who has been arrested and is now in German hands – whereabouts unknown.
It is through Juliet’s letters back home to her best friend and to her publisher that we learn about the courage, humanity, and even good humor that the people of Guernsey exhibited while withstanding the horrors of war and occupation.
While this could be a sad and sentimental reflection on a terrible time in history, the story is, instead, warm and often funny while never flinching or backing away from the losses and deprivation endured. There is a reader’s guide at the back of the book to stimulate discussion and better understanding of the impact of war in even the remotest of locales.