Books, War, and Potato Pies

I recall being in a bookshop when I first heard of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. I can only call it fate. One of my best friends, Olivia, recommended it to me as we browsed the dusty clearance shelf. 

Olivia is the one friend I can safely say loves books as much as I. If she recommends a book, I am left in no doubt that it is a stunner. Which is why I am surprised that it took me so long to lay my hands on a copy.

The book isn’t scarce or hard to find. I merely forgot about it. Which is completely horrible of me. In my defense it isn’t too hard to forget. The title is quite a mouthful.

My mother and I were cleaning out our book stock when I saw we owned a copy. I was short on reading material, having have just finished a Jane Austen biography. So of course I sat down for a read. I am not ashamed to admit I did little else than that for several days.

I expected to be enjoying tea in a china cup with a scone sprinkled with sugar granules on top as I read the book. However, while the setting is in the Channel Islands (islands loyal to the British Crown, located in the English Channel, between the United Kingdom and France) and England, it is more than tea and crumpets. 

More than tea and crumpets? What a beautiful phrase.

The book is set in post WWll. It is a collection of fictional letters, wires, and telegrams sent and received amongst several characters. There is no real “main character” and I love the book all the more for it. No one is insignificant, and everyone’s role is equally as important as the next person. 

In the book, a journalist and author named Juliet Ashton has just hit it big with her collection on wartime anecdotes she published under the name Izzy Bickerstaff. 

She corresponds mostly with Sydney Stark, her publisher and friend, and Sophie Stachan, Sydney’s sister. Later, she receives a letter from Dawsey Adams, a farmer from Guernsey who owns a book by Charles Lamb which Juliet previously owned.

That is when Juliet first hears of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. Which is better? Juliet’s meeting the Society by mysterious letter or my encounter with the Society in a bookshop?I favor the bookshop, as is usual. 

Guernsey was home to German occupation for most of the war. Unlike  France who signed an armistice with Germany, the Chanel Islands were taken over by the Germans purely through force. 

The book does not emphasize on this, but while researching the occupation I learned that Guernsey was taken over two years before France was even in the picture. Winston Churchill had demilitarized the islands because protecting them led to no strategic advantage. 

These were BRITISH CITIZENS, left abandoned and unprotected by their own country. The injustice of it all just triggers me. Did you ever learn about the German occupation of the Channel Islands in school? Probably not. Yes, France was important and a part of significant World War history but were is Guernsey’s recognition?

Letters from Juliet, Sidney, Susan, Dawsey, as well as Amelia Maugery (a Molly Weasley to the Society), Isola Pribby (if the 1940’s had millennials), Eben Ramsey (that one grandpa…you know which), and others who are equally as important, paint a vivid picture of the horrors of war, too close too home. 

But this isn’t a hopeless novelization of war time. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is set in the fruits of war but the Society was birthed by community and fellowship, something the victims of occupation sorely missed. I won’t give out any spoilers but…illegal roast pig.

I have never learned a more valuable lesson than this; if feelings are mentionable, they are manageable. Fred Rogers taught that to thousands of children, including my mother, who taught it to me. 

War creates emotion and trial, brokenness and bonds. If we can talk about it with others, we can get through it. The experiences each individual in the Society goes through would be unbearable if they didn’t have their friends to help carry their burden.

Nothing is worse than cutting yourself off from people for any reason. The only way to heal and grow is to open yourself up and connect. And that is what the Society is all about.

I greatly recommend reading this book, even if you aren’t an Angliophile. It is an easy read but I advise taking the time to really take the book slowly. There are so many “in-between the lines” philosophies and deep and simple concepts that smooth the soul. Welcome to the Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society!