February 2011 Book Club Review

Celebrating literature, love, and the power of the human spirit, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is the story of an English author living in the shadow of World War II—and embarking on a writing
project that will dramatically change her life. Unfolding in a series ofletters, this enchanting novel introduces readers to the indomitable Juliet Ashton. Through Juliet’s correspondence with her publisher, best friend, and
an absorbing cast of characters, readers discover that despite the personal losses she suffered in the Blitz, and author tours sometimes marked by mishaps, nothing can quell her enthusiasm for the written word. One day, she begins a different sort of correspondence, responding to a man who found her name on the flyleaf of a cherished secondhand book. He tells her that his name is Dawsey Adams, a native resident of Guernsey, one of the Channel Islands recently liberated from Nazi occupation. Soon Juliet is drawn into Dawsey’s remarkable circle of friends, courageous men and women who formed the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society as a cover to protect them from the Germans. With their appetite for good books, and their
determination to honor the island’s haunting recent history, this is a community that opens Juliet’s heart and mind in ways she could never have imagined.

Our own literary society met on Feb 22 to discuss this book, February’s pick.  Here is a synopsis of thoughts from Cindy Bushey, who couldn’t attend last night…along with reflections by other members.  Everyone struggled to keep the characters straight and some were initially put off by the letter format.  But most everyone agreed that once you got rolling with the book, the letters moved the narrative along nicely.  All agreed that the characters fairly lept off the page and we were surprised how the literary device of the letter was able to accomplish so much character development.

Everyone was interested in this hidden history of WWII, and the occupation of the Channel Islands was one of which we were largely unaware.   It was interesting to hear the details and although knowing the depths to which the human race can sink are heartbreaking, it is also astounding to know the heights to which people can rise in the face of seemingly insurmountable tragedy.  We wondered how we would cope in similar circumstances and all were humbled by the courage it would take to send one’s children away as the islanders did in the last transport back to England prior to the German invasion.

Some of the critique centered on whether the writers were sufficiently serious in portraying a situation of such gravity.  Some wanted more details on the actual occupation and a clearer sense of what day to day life was like.  A few were put off by the romantic angles of the book and saw them as an unnecessary sidetrack.  All agreed that a few of the characters felt irrelevent.   One person thought that Juliet seemed like a “jetsetter” who was using the community as a way to add interest and meaning to her life. 

We all agreed that we mourn the loss of letter writing and feel that we have lost depth and passion in our communications.  It was good to be reminded of the power of personal correspondence and its role in recording human history.  All in all the book received 8 thumbs up, 1 thumbs down, and 2 thumbs neutral.

Join us in March for The Other Wes Moore.