Quite simply, this book makes me cry. Each time I read it, I cry again (and I’ve read it about four time, which isn’t bad considering it was only released in 2008). Before I read this book, I had no idea Guernsey was occupied by the Nazis in WWII. I also didn’t really have much of an idea what Guernsey was like at all, to be honest. After reading it, I don’t think I’ll ever forget.
Told in a series of letters, the main character is a delightful female author, who starts a correspondence with the members of the Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. She hears some of their stories of life during the war, and decides to write a book about them and visits the island. They stories range from heartbreaking to life-affirming. In one, the island’s inhabitants had been told by the Germans that London had been blown up. Two of the characters overhear the Nazis listening to the BBC news one day, which starts, as always, with the chiming of Big Ben. They are so joyful to know it’s still standing they almost dance down the street. There’s another about how all the families on the island were given one day to decide if they would send their children away to the relative safety of England, to live with strangers. Those that did do this didn’t see their children for the next four years. German soldiers are described sitting on the back of a truck, guarding food, and nudging potatoes with their guns so that children running after it would be able to pick them up and take them home to their starving families. Each story gives a perceptive and astute insight into what living through WWII would actually have been like, without being in any way clichéd or hackneyed.
This was the author’s first book – she died recently, at the age of 74, without knowing just how successful her book was. As much as I hate that I won’t read more of her work, it makes me appreciate this one book so much more.
The Australian Literature Review