Book Review: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

For Book Club Meeting: Saturday, 23rd October 2010.
Venue: Ms. Madhavi Murthy’s residence. Time: 4:00 pm to 6:00 pm

Off the coast of Normandy, in the English Channel lies the island of Guernsey – pronounced as GURN-zee. Saint Peter Port as its capital bore the brunt of German Occupation in World War II as much as the European continent did. Till today, most of the German fortifications erected there remain intact. The book by Mary Ann Shaffer and her niece Annie Barrows: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society was born out of this setting and period. It is a tender-hearted tale to remember the people who suffered, died, survived in the war which spurted in 1939 and ended in 1945. Mary Ann’s writing group persuaded her with fondness to complete the manuscript and the author was in love with the whole idea, too.

Initially, I was indifferent to the book: first, for the lengthy peculiar title; second, the epistolary form appeared odd to me, commanding the story from the beginning to the end. Then as the pages constructed the thematic flow, I realized how Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrow resemble the most charming writers. But, I will still maintain that The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society would attract “selective” readership.

The book describes the Society’s members who got together to read from a work, any work that was at their disposal. The Society barred them to think of the war. A potato peel pie filled their plates as they discussed and shared the thoughts of literary lines. The book has several messages. I don’t think we realize what wars are about, and a huge-thank-God from all of us who have never seen a war. The German Occupation is a very dark chapter in the history of our planet, yet goodness is an eternal light which soaks into good people no matter what their caste, creed or nationality might be, or, what sort of times they may go through. The book describes very touching and heart-breaking scenes in some parts. Many children were evacuated from the island to England to live with relatives or strangers, during the war. Some of these children were never re-united with their families.

The style of the writers is something else. Very homely and heroic. The humour is straight and simple and for that you don’t have to ransack the book. It so happens, every third page is fortified with the pleasure of tickling you to death with laughter.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society gave me the taste of our Book Club (not the period of war and deprivation). It filled the bucket of my soul to think that in some way or the other, we the members of Book Club may be carrying similar identity cards of Elizabeth, Juliet, Sidney, Dawsey, Mrs. Maugery or any of the rest. I hope there is no Will Thisbee amongst us who got shooting pains in his head reading Thomas Carlyle! Now, I feel like standing up and saying, ‘Three cheers! to The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. Three cheers! to our Book Club in Dubai’.

Geeta Chhabra

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