Readers' Review: "The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society" by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

 - Flickr user nuanc. Some rights reserved.

Flickr user nuanc. Some rights reserved.

Readers' Review: "The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society" by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

This month's Readers' Review is a charming book about reading, letters and life on the island of Guernsey during and after World War II.

For this month's Readers' Review, we chose a novel set in Britain's island of Guernsey. The action takes place during and just after World War II. The authors - an aunt and her niece - tell a heart-warming and harrowing tale of life under Nazi Occupation. One night, as an alibi to avoid punishment for breaking curfew, a book club is born. The novel unfolds in a series of letters between a London writer, her publisher and the earthy, resilient people of Guernsey. It describes how war affects individuals - aggressors and victims. And how literature can heal even the most wounded spirits.


Peter Reid

vice president, communications, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars; former head of communications for the British Embassy in Washington.

Lynn Neary

NPR correspondent covering books and publishing.

Nicholas Basbanes

lecturer and author of numerous books, including the forthcoming "Common Bond," a cultural history of paper and papermaking.

Program Highlights

What lengths will people go to to save others - and themselves - in wartime? "The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society" celebrates the power of humanity as well as the written word.

  • Neary:"I knew less than nothing about the Channel Islands, less than nothing about Guernsey and nothing about the occupation, at all. And so suddently, [the book] opened up this window into history that I knew nothing about and that was fascinating."
  • Rehm:"The sad part of this is that Mary Ann Shaffer, who originally worked on the novel, wrote the novel, found herself extremely ill and when the book came back from the publisher for revisions, she turned to her niece, who was and is a children's literary writer, and her niece, Annie Barrows, finished the book for her. But the afterward, when she writes about moving into her aunt's voice, was so touching."
  • Reid:"Ultimately, this isn't about the plot or the characters, it's about the power of books to bring us together to make us think more, talk more, argue, make up. And they have some hysterical scenes at the book club where they choose these weird books, fall out about them, then they go off to the pub to make up in one instance and so forth."
  • Melody:"I think that it also was just a superlative book because it was, you might say, a successful morality tale or a successful literary venture that produced the argument and the reality that good really is more powerful than evil or at least can be more powerful than evil."
  • Reid:"The amount of research that must've gone into finding those little nuggets of what happened at the time, what island life was like at the time, what the war - effect the war had on people, must've been enormous. And I think it comes together as a lovely backdrop to this key message that's in there."

Read an Excerpt

Excerpted from "The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society" by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. Copyright 2009 by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. Excerpted here by kind permission of Random House:

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