10 March 2010

Book review: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrow

Back of the book says:
January 1946: London is emerging from the shadow of WWII, and writer Juliet Ashton is looking for her new book subject. Who could imagine that she would find it in a letter from a man she's never met, a native of Guernsey, the British island once occupied by the Nazis. He'd come across her name on the flyleaf of a secondhand volume by Charles Lamb. Perhaps she could tell him where he might find more books by this author.

As Juliet and her new correspondent exchange letters, she is drawn into the world of this man and his friends, all members of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, a unique book club formed in a unique-spur-of-the-moment way: as an alibi to protect members from arrest by the Germans.

Juliet begins a remarkable correspondence with the Society's charming, deeply human members, from pig farmers to phrenologists, literature lovers all. Through their letters, she learns about their island, their taste in books and the powerful, transformative impact the recent German occupation has had on their lives. Captivated by their lives, she sets sail for Guernsey, and what she finds there will change her life forever.

Quite a title, eh? My first thought after looking at the title was what-the-heck is Guernsey and how-the-heck can a literary society have the words ‘potato peel pie’ in its title? But when I read the book, I must admit- I loved, loved, loved it!

Here’s one book that is witty, genuine and totally heart-warming all at the same time. The entire book is based only on letters exchanged between Juliet, her publisher, her friends and yes, members of the Guernsey L&PPP Society. And as their lives unravel in the letters, you can’t help but fall in love with these characters - well, at least I did!

For those of you in my league i.e. the ignorant, Guernsey (spelled as GURN-zee) is a small island south of England and west of France. The island is part of neither the British nor the French territory but (if I got my facts right) pledged allegiance to the British Empire. The book talks about the experiences of all the characters as they go on with their lives after the Second World War: London (where Juliet lives) – a victim to German bombing, and Guernsey –to German occupation.

The biggest appeal to me was the simplicity and realness of the book, and of its characters. They don’t pretend to be too-goody or too-baddy, which is such a welcome relief! Here’s one of the few WWII books I have come across which is sane enough to admit that the Hitler and Nazism legacy doesn’t automatically mean that all Germans were bad. Nor does it discount the traitors and betrayals in the Allied forces. I guess there is never a black and white in real life.. it’s just important to recognize this and not generalize things, don’t you agree?

I cannot begin to imagine how difficult it is to resurrect your life from ashes (forget one as big as the WWII) but the book astonished me about how people seemed to have gone ahead with their lives on this tiny island- all based on love, goodwill and yes, books! I know the book is fictional and the characters are merely that- characters, but I don’t think it’s ever a bad idea to draw some inspiration from something so nice - fictional or otherwise!

My absolute fav line in the book? Perhaps there is a secret homing instinct in books that brings them to their perfect readers. Well, this book definitely has its instinct bang on !

Finally, if I have to say something not-so-nice about the book, all I will admit is that it is a little girly but if you live with that, go for it!

A big thumbs–up from me anyways,


Jagruti said...

Seems nice book..would love to read..

Vinaya said...

Yup Jagruti- as you can tell, I loved it! Its definitely worth a read :)

Aadi said...

This comment is actually a pre-post reading comment - i havent read the post but just read the name of the book.. and i was so so lost in the name that i thot the name itself deserved a comment.. :P

Sharmista said...

looks like a very nice book and simply loved the lucidity of your writing..simply wow..keep it up.