January 25, 2013

By Annie Barrows & Mary Ann Shaffer

A BOOK REVIEW   by Betty L. Owen   

To preface reviewing this delightful book I need to explain how I came to read it.
I began acupuncture treatments recently and in doing so found a new friend. 
It began with the usual small talk between doctor and patient but soon developed into a discovery of mutual interests in reading and books.  While I was being punctured our conversations carried me away and I was more focused on telling stories and almost forgot why I was lying on a couch in a dim room in a vintage Victorian house!   I didn’t even feel the needles going in!   
I came to my next appointment with a bag of books to lend and she wrote the name of this book on a post-it-note.
I had been reading books about the world wars: BIRDSONG left a huge impression on me, and also the book UNBROKEN-about a B-24 lost in the South Pacific during WW2.
 My granddaughter, Kim, had been asking questions about the time our family spent in Germany during the American Occupation of Germany after WW2.  My husband was an officer in the Air Force and we lived in the Frankfurt vicinity in 1951/52.
  My mind was full of the images of the horrors of war.  Then along comes this book.
The frivolous title of this book does not reveal its subject matter, its substance, its richness or its depth.
It is written in a ‘letter’ format.  This gives the telling an intimate touch.   We hear  the voices of the letter writers, revealing their personalities and unique perspectives.
I had never heard of  Guernsey Island; I did not know the Channel Islands  existed in the far reaches of the English Channel;  I was not aware of a German invasion of Guernsey and that the German occupation there lasted  for 5 years.  

This tale begins with a group of Island neighbors who were dining in secret on an illegal pig.  Under the occupation it was ‘verboten’ to own or eat the livestock that they raised.   The Germans confiscated all vegetables from the gardens and all livestock for the use of the German troops.
 One of the Islanders had somehow managed to secretly raise and hide a pig.
When it was butchered he invited his friends to dinner.  
 Someone squealed--- but they were warned in the nick of time that the Germans were coming.   They scrambled around and quickly hid the evidence.  When the Germans stormed the house they found an  group of people sitting around in an innocent discussion group. 
Quick thinking Elizabeth came up with the reason ~~ it was a meeting of The Guernsey Literary Society.  The Germans, being a culture minded people, bought the story, and the group was permitted to meet on a regular basis~~sans pig.   The rest of the title was added later as rations became scarce and the Islanders were forced to become more creative with their menus.
The main correspondent is Juliet, a young London  writer, doing research on a book when she comes across information on the island of Guernsey and becomes curious about its history.   Juliet decides she must pay a visit to the island and she  literally falls in love with the island and the people  She asks her new friends to write to her about their experiences under the occupation.
As the letters go back and forth  the personal experiences of the characters, stories of life under the heavy hand of the German Occupation Forces are revealed.  The relationships between the characters and their lives become part of an ongoing tale.  The beauty of the island blossoms with images of beaches and boats and life on an island in nearly total isolation. 
It is funny, heartbreaking and poignant and very beautifully written, besides being a kind of documentary about a unique time in history. A story not widely known, until now.
Betty L. Owen, journals 2013


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