Dial Press/Random House, 2009
My Rating: A+
Last Thursday I closed the last page of this book and I was eager to tell you about it. The problem was, I couldn’t. It touched me on so many levels that I didn’t have words to explain it. It took me a couple of days to digest this amazing story and calm down enough to talk about it. I’m ready now so let me summarize it first.
It’s 1946 and Juliet Ashton is a writer living in London. Juliet wrote a newspaper column during the war trying to help people keep a sense of humor. Those columns have been turned into a book and she’s become successful.
While toying with various ideas for her next book Juliet receives a letter from a farmer living on the island of Guernsey. He speaks of author, Charles Lamb, and how his book helped him during the German occupation. He also mentions a hidden pig and his literary society. The letter intrigues Juliet and she begins a correspondence with Dawsey Adams. One letter leads to more and soon she is corresponding with nearly everyone in the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.
Juliet’s initial interest is in how books and literature helped the Society’s member survive five years of German occupation. The more she knows these people, the more she thinks their story may be the topic of her next book.
After about five months of correspondence, Juliet pays a visit to Guernsey. Becoming acquainted with the people of Guernsey means learning from each of them what daily life was like during the occupation. Gradually, Juliet begins to care deeply for all of these people. She understands their physical and emotional pain, the suffering, and trauma they endured.
The story is told through the use of letters to and from Juliet and her friends and the residents of Guernsey. The letters are so personal that I felt as if I were trespassing on something very private.
The letters were written in such a way that the reader saw the full personality of most of the characters. I understood completely the character of Juliet. She was so lovely, gracious and humorous. She didn’t mind poking fun at herself. At the same time she was quite empathetic with those who had suffered so much. She took on their pain. Each one of the characters was unique and believable.
The experiences the residents suffered during the occupation really bothered me. As each new fact and experience emerged, I could vision myself in their place. And yet, I don’t know how the mothers survived sending their children to England to live with strangers, not knowing where they were or how they were doing. I tried to imagine living for nearly five years with very little food, no salt, no soap. And to live with daily fear and what I imagined as overwhelming hate. I don’t know how they did it. They were indeed brave and courageous people.
I strongly recommend this book for a variety of people. First, for those people like my daughter Candice, who have a great appreciation for the lost art of letter writing. Second, to those who are World War II buffs and want to understand how the war affected civilians. Third, this book is ideal for book lovers as it has so many references to authors and literature and reading in general. And then, I’d recommend this book to people who love good character stories with a bit of romance thrown in. As you can see, there is something for everyone in this book.
I borrowed this book from the public library but it’s also available at Amazon