When books brought hope to a war ridden town

“Somewhere in the dull, gloomy, unconnected world they lived in, books gave them hope, a reason to live, a reason to bond and make merry,” writes Anantha.

Great books make you smile and cry at the same time. ‘The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society’, by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows is one such read.

Set in post-World War II, when people are just recovering from the aftermath of the trauma and coming to terms that they can finally lead a peaceful life, the entire book is a series of letters between different individuals narrating the events of the war itself.

A columnist and an author, Juliet Ashton, gets a letter from a mysterious man, Dawsey Adams, who claims himself as one of the members of’ The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society’, requesting her for a book from a certain author, Charles Lamb. Intrigued by the name of the society, she probes further, and writes back to him enquiring on the details about this society. Dawnsey elaborates that this society is a book club, which was accidentally formed when they had to escape a curfew in the night hours during the German occupation to Guernsey. Those were the days when all the communication was cut, and people were in shortage of food and had to grow their own crops to eat.

They had to give away all their meat to the Germans. The book club would meet up once in a while and after intense discussions, they would wind it up with a treat. As the staple diet was potatoes, they decided to make a fancy dish with a Potato pie and potato peels as the “icing” on the pie. Hence the name ‘The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society’.

Juliet begins to fall in love with this whole idea of the society and how it was formed and asks Dawsey if she can know further about the society members. Dawsey passes on the buck to the other members of the society, the most prominent being Amelia, Isola, Eben and Will Thisbee. Dawsey is a pig farmer, Eben a post master, Isola a potion maker and Will, the baker and the creator of the potato pie. They all start writing to her about their experiences during the war and how they resorted to books to keep themselves sane. Over a period of time, she starts getting letters from those who were not regular in the meetings but were forced to attend them because their friends wanted them to. Somewhere in the dull, gloomy, unconnected world they lived in, books gave them hope, a reason to live, a reason to bond and make merry.

But all hell breaks loose when a member of the society, the upright and flamboyant Elizabeth McKenna is arrested and taken away to Germany. She has left behind her child, who is being taken care of by the society as their own daughter. The society is still looking out for Elizabeth.

Juliet begins to fall in love with the people in the society and decides to visit them. She convinces her publisher, a very agreeable Sidney Stark, to go to Guernsey for a promising story. What she does not know and she will figure out soon is that this is going to be the story of her own life. When she reaches there, she begins to find a soulful connection with each and every member of that society, that she forgets that she ever belonged to London.

There are many pages in the book which describe the German torture and the concentration camps in detail. I remember reading Leon Uris’s Exodus, which described the plight of the Jews during the war. Uris has such power in his writing, that book still sends chills down my spine even to this day. Such is the atrocity of the war.

This book also makes us smile, because it ends with a happy Jane Austen ending. It is also very heartwarming to see how Juliet works on her relationships with each and every member of the society. Amelia is initially very skeptical on Juliet’s intentions about the society. So, Juliet actually makes two people, one who dotes her like a daughter and the other who hates her to the core, write to Amelia. This is done so that Amelia knows both sides of Juliet’s character. These little details make us wander if such integrity exists today.

Anantha is an IT Professional. Writing is her passion. She writes short stories, book reviews, movie reviews, small stories for children and play scripts for the theater. She regularly conducts storytelling workshops for children.

Read More –

Censorship And The Limits Of The Literary : Moving beyond binary understandings

Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See : Beauty is to be found in smaller things

Aanchal Malhotra’s Remnants of a Separation : Story of partition through objects




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