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Wednesday, December 31, 2008


My book of the year is Mary Ann Shaffer's The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society. This novel is exciting, and it’s honest-to-goodness literature; it has all the hallmarks of a great book. The most inviting element of Guernsey… is its form. It is epistolary--a series of letters. Through these letters the reader enters a private world and reads personal thoughts. It’s a way for Shaffer to develop individual characters without the usual description; the characters literally develop themselves, and we get to know their most intimate thoughts. Combine these revelations with an intriguing plot, and you’re taken on an emotional ride as each new event is uncovered.

The story begins on Jan.8, 1946 immediately following the end of World War II when people in England are trying to rebuild their lives after years of war, bombings, and deprivation. That's true in busy London where our main character lived through the bombing and destruction. It's also true on the quiet Channel Islands occupied by the Germans during the war. There people are trying to find--or remember--what life is like on a small island isolated from the mainland's hectic life. It’s not easy re-defining the meaning of "normal." This dichotomy of lifestyles suggests a close look at life's values.

One of the strongest aspects of the novel is the diversity of character. As in any society, the range of personalities, values, and reactions to events is diverse. How people react to war, occupation, and material shortages reveals personality traits that may remain hidden in a better world. The characters’ letters reveal their reactions. Through the people on Guernsey and the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society we gain familiarity and insight. So does our main character, Juliet Ashton.

Juliet Ashton is a young, weary London writer whose home, belongings, and sense of normalcy have been bombed into oblivion. Trying to write a book as a transition from a wartime columnist attempting to bring some humor into a humorless situation to a recognized author rebuilding a shattered emotional life and adjusting to a blitzkrieg-free post war environment, Juliet begins to find some sense to the world through a casual correspondence with a Guernsey Island inhabitant, Dawsey Adams.

Juliet's relationship widens through letters to other members of Guernsey's Literary and Potato Pie Society, people also desperate for news of the world after years of Nazi occupation. Their letters reveal the pains and joys of life lived under dire circumstances. The letters reflect their resilience, and this novel becomes praise for the human spirit.

But don't think this is a serious, no-nonsense book. It's not! There is plenty of lol funny stuff going on, and there's burgeoning affection and confliction as well. Juliet is aggressively courted by super-wealthy, wheeler-dealer, suave Markham Reynolds who inundates her with flowers, wines and dines her in a way that her war-rationed mentality finds gloriously stimulating, and brings her into international society. Very tempting for a girl who delights over real eggs and real sugar for icing!

The key is--This book is delightful, real, vivid, exciting, and, to my absolute pleasure, a piece of real literature! The characters will become your friends, and you will yearn to visit the Channel Islands (although the inhabitants will hardly enjoy becoming a tourist spot). Start the New Year right, and treat yourself to The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.
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