The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

Written by Annie Barrows Mary Ann Shaffer
Review by Helene Williams

It’s a good bet that many people don’t know (or remember) that Britain’s Channel Islands—Jersey and Guernsey, just off the coast of France—were occupied by the Germans during the second World War, and this breezy epistolary novel is just the thing to fill in the gap in our collective historical knowledge. In 1946, London and its environs are casting off the pall of war, and writer Juliet Ashton is on the lookout for a subject for her next book; she is contacted by a farmer on the island of Guernsey about a book by Charles Lamb that she had once owned which he has just purchased. This correspondence marks a new beginning for nearly everyone involved: Juliet, her publisher Sidney Stark, the Guernsey farmer Dawsey Adams, and the rest of his fellow-islanders who belong to the oddly-named (but completely rational once it’s explained) book group.

The letters bring out the characters—and they are indeed characters—of the many who suffered greatly under Nazi rule for five long years. The multiple points of view also allow Shaffer and Barrows to include details about the varied, and very real, historical events on Guernsey. Besides Dawsey Adams, we meet Amelia Maugery, hostess for the literary society; Isola Pribby, potion-maker and parrot-owner; and Eben Ramsey, fisherman and wood-carver, to name just a few. All tell Juliet of their wartime experiences, and they all talk about one islander in particular, Elizabeth McKenna, whose bravery and loyalty, along with her young daughter, Kit, keep the rest of the group going during tough times. This is a heartwarming, and at times heart-wrenching, book in which history and personalities form an incredibly well wrought narrative, and which left me wanting to know what happens next in the lives of these lovely people.