Thursday, August 25, 2011

Emily recommends

I have a new book on my must-read list. Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is one of the best books I have read in a long time. I read it in three delicious gulps, then wandered around for two days complaining of being bookless and wishing for more. It’s an epistolary novel, not a form you see often now, and the author pulls it off beautifully. The story begins in 1945 in a bombed-out London, recovering from the Great War. Juliet, who has written a lively, morale-building column all through the war, is looking for a new topic. She receives a letter from a man named Dawsey on the island of Guernsey, who obtained one of her old books from a used book store and is writing to say how much it cheered his heart during the occupation. I did not know that England owned a series of islands in the English channel, close enough to see northern France on a clear day. Said islands were occupied for five years by the Germans. Dawsey mentions the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, which a group of islanders founded to keep themselves sane during the occupation. Intrigued, Juliet asks to learn more, and she soon begins a correspondence with a number of the members. This is a delightful, heart-warming book about the joys of reading, and each of the characters is unique and wonderful and fully real. Part of what kept me reading is that, as the letters continue, you learn more and more about the occupation: the lack of food, the small defiances, the forced laborers brought from Poland, the intricacies of life on a small island where one sees the occupiers daily and not all of them are bad. Those who love history and literature will love this book, and as the story continues I spy I hint of Pride and Prejudice in there. But what keeps me thinking about this one, a week and a full book later, is the sense that I have seen full, real lives lived out in this book, and I miss hearing their voices now.

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