Over a year ago I joined a book club. Each month we democratically choose a book to read and then meet up the following month to discuss it. One of the great things about being part of a group like this, is having the opportunity to read books I may not have picked up on my own.
This was the case with The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. From the title, I just assumed it was some kind of British version of the Ya Ya Sisterhood and I wasn’t very excited about reading it.
It wasn’t what I expected at all.
It takes place in 1946 while Great Britain was recovering from World War II. By chance, a London author begins corresponding with some residents of Guernsey (one of the Channel Islands) and becomes intertwined with the community as she collects their stories of suffering, friendship and humanity during the war. The story is told in a series of letters, to and from the various characters. The novel does contain a cute underlying love story but there is also a darker narrative about the the hardships of war – not from a miltary perspective, but from a civilian one. It’s that story that I found most incredible, because while the novel was a work of fiction, the plight of the islanders was true.
During the war, the Germans were under the impression that the islands held some strategic value. The British did not, and so they left the islands undefended. When the Germans showed up in 1940, the islanders (at least the ones that had not evacuated to England) had no choice but to surrender. The German soldiers fortified the island, took over their homes, commadeered thier resources and forbid communication with the mainland. Eventually, the allies cut off their supply line from Germany and they were all left to fend for themsleves with what little was left on the island. When humitarinan aid finally arrived, nearly everyone, including the soliders, were near starvation.
It boogles my mind to think about what life must have been like for those people during that time. Even after the Germans retreated there were lasting effects that changed the culture of the island and the lives of its inhabitants forever.
For me this book had the best of both worlds: a cute, fluffy story with a touch of humour, but at the same time, gave me some food for thought. Thumbs up.