The National Endowment for the Humanities turns 50 next year. William “Bro” Adams, the new chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, wants to make sure that the study of history, philosophy, and literature remains accessible to everyone. A conversation about his new "Common Good" initiative.
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.
- Lynn Neary NPR correspondent covering books and publishing.
- Peter Reid vice president, communications, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars; former head of communications for the British Embassy in Washington.
- Nicholas Basbanes lecturer and author of numerous books, including the forthcoming "Common Bond," a cultural history of paper and papermaking.
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:
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us, I'm Diane Rehm. "The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society," that has got to be the title that takes the cake. It really is such a warmhearted novel that celebrates not only the power of humanity and also the written word. Unlikely characters are brought together by a love of books. The setting, World War II Britain. The book explores what people are willing to do to save others and themselves.
MS. DIANE REHMHere in the studio for this month's Readers' Review, former British diplomat, Peter Reid, NPR book correspondent, Lynn Neary and author and critic, Nicholas Basbanes. And again, the title of the book, if you've never heard it before or if you've read it many times, "The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society" written by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. Do join us, 800-433-8850, send us your e-mail to email@example.com, join us on Facebook or Twitter. Good morning and welcome to all of you.
MR. PETER REIDGood morning.
MS. LYNN NEARYGood morning, great to be here.
MR. NICHOLAS BASBANESGood morning, Diane.
REHMSo glad to have you here. Peter, I understand you went to Guernsey a number of years ago. Tell us about the island where this novel is set.
REIDIt's one of a series of islands called the Channel Islands just in the English Channel between England and France, the South of English, the coastline, but actually closer to Northwest of Normandy. And the location really underscores the history. It's a -- it's an island that has been invaded. The Britain's settled there on their way to France and it was part of the Duchy of the Normandy, it was part of the Duchy of Brittany and so it went on and then we had the Nazi invasion.
REHMAnd how has the island itself shaped the character of the people who live there?
REIDFrance -- French was the spoken language until the 19th century and then the islands were Anglicized. There are still a, let me get this right, a British -- dependency of the British Crown.
REIDBut they are totally independent, in terms of laws and the only thing Britain is responsible for is the defense of the islands, which of course, came into play, World War II.
REHMAnd it is the only part of Britain that the Nazis were able to take hold of during World War II. Lynn Neary, I learned so much about that period by reading this book, which I didn't expect...
NEARYI didn't, either. I think that's the hook for this book. I was -- I knew this book was very popular. I cover books for NPR and I always say, as somebody who covers books, you're always wondering, what's the book that's going to become very popular...
NEARY...that pops? And this was one of these books that popped unexpectedly for me, at least. And I knew it was very popular, I knew it was on the bestseller list, but I still wasn't that interested in reading it because I thought, well, it's going to be kind of precious, you know. It's a good...
NEARYIt's a good title, but...
NEARY...a little cutesy.
NEARYAnd so it didn't really, really pull me in. I kept seeing it more and more and kept thing I really should read that book. But -- so I was glad to have the opportunity to do this show to give me a reason to read the book and I start reading it and it's something very -- it's partially what I expected, but partially not what I expected at all.
NEARYBecause I knew less than nothing about the Channel Islands, less than nothing about Guernsey and nothing about the occupation, at all. And so suddenly, it opened up this window into history that I knew nothing about and that was fascinating.
REHMAnd Nicholas Basbanes, at least for me, as I began reading this book, it didn't seem to grab me at first until we got to the point about the Germans, the Nazis occupying Guernsey. What about for you?
BASBANESWell, the same. She -- the book does start where Juliet is exchanging letters with her editor, so these are typical, and I -- having done a few books and having exchanged correspondence with editors, that was just spot-on by the way that she was talking her life, their good friends, but she's trying to find something to write about...
BASBANES...and so we're going back and forth and then, yes, so like the book itself, it's trying to find a focus, it's trying to find a narrative arc. And so I did -- I did allow itself to develop, the -- I dispensed with this impatience that, I think, that you're suggesting there because it is an epistolary novel. It is a novel that is -- that is done through letters. I was a little concerned about that, from the beginning, what -- would it succeed as a novel? Would we be able to develop characters? Would we be able to get voice from the individual characters?
BASBANESAnd as I got into it, I have to say, it was splendid.
BASBANESI thought she did a magnificent job of doing that.
REHMAnd we should say here 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.
BASBANESIt -- it really astounded me. And I did do a little research and I found some articles where Annie Barrows talks about this and it was a very bittersweet experience, she says. You know, because on the one hand, she knows that her aunt is gone, but -- and working with the book and these characters that she created and trying to retain her aunt's voice, that's very important. I think Annie really didn't want to intrude her own authorial influence too heavily on the book, she wanted to retain as much of the structure as she could.
BASBANESAnd I can just imagine doing that with someone you loved and someone you respect. And to really come up with the kind of book that they did just really did astound me, I have to say.
REHMAuthor and critic, Nicholas Basbanes, NPR book correspondent, Lynn Neary, former British diplomat, Peter Reid. We're talking about a book titled "The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society."
REHMEvery time I say...
NEARYIt's a mouthful.
REHM...that title, it is a mouthful. How long was it on the New York Times Best Seller List, long time?
NEARYOh, yeah. I don't know the exact number of weeks...
NEARY...but it was there for a long time.
REHMReally, really burst into popularity. Now, you mentioned Juliet, she is writing to her editors in East Arc and then she gets a letter from Dawsey Adams, a pig farmer. Tell us about Dawsey Adams, Peter.
REIDVery unlikely character for this successful wartime columnist and author and, you know, having a very kind of racy life, if you like, of modicum of celebrity in London and suddenly, she hears from the antithesis to her life, is a pig farmer. He's a quiet man, he's a solid man, he's a good man and he -- the letter just changes her life. It begins a series of actions in which her life is changed and she starts hearing more and more from these people and gradually, she gets -- her life changes, she gets sucked in and it all changes.
REIDIt's like she is looking for something and she has a -- something else in life and she has this terrible history herself, when her -- her parents dying when she was young and it's like she's looking to plug that gap and this is the beginning of plugging that gap.
REHMYou know, what fascinated me was that Dawsey Adams had a book by Charles Lamb in his hand. He had come across it, it had Juliet Ashton's name in it and therefore he, Dawsey, writes to Juliet and says, please, where can I find more books about Charles? And the fact is that all of our libraries, all of our book stores on Guernsey are gone. Help me with Charles Lamb.
NEARYWell, I -- me -- you want me to help you with Charles Lamb (laugh) ?
REHMYeah, help me with Charles Lamb. What do you know about Charles Lamb?
NEARYI don't know anything about Charles Lamb.
REHMIt's interesting, what do you know?
BASBANESWell, he was the great -- he was the great essayist. And he had this wonderful wit and one of the essays, in particular, that Dawsey liked was the essay on "Roast Pig" and when he writes that in this letter to Juliet, right off the bat, she can -- this is a kindred spirit.
BASBANESAnd he wants -- he wants to know more about this guy. And he doesn't even realize there may -- may even be other volumes of Lamb essays. So initially, he wants to get more essays by Lamb that he can read and maybe perhaps even also a biography and she finds a bookseller. And I -- what I love, as you mentioned her name was also in the book, but her address was also in the book.
BASBANESThe -- the...
REHMThe old address.
BASBANESThat's right. Because how many people just write their names in a book, but she also wrote her address.
BASBANESNow, I read a few reviews that thought this premise was a little weak. I think it's totally credible because books really are very peripatetic things, secondhand books. I'm sure that my colleagues here at the panel, first thing I do when I go into a new city is to find the secondhand book stores.
BASBANESAnd amazing the things that you have never heard of before that are there that you find and if it has a prior owner, so much the better. You're wondering who this person is, so he reaches out to her and that starts this and I love that premise right there.
NEARYWell, I just wanted to say, here's what I liked about the role Charles Lamb plays in this book and that is that the literary society is founded as a ruse and we can -- we can describe that a little bit more when...
REHMAnd, of course, we also need to mention that the children of Guernsey have been shipped to London before...
REHM...the Germans arrive. Lynn Neary, she's NPR book correspondent. We'll take a short break. I hope you'll join us, 800-433-8850.
REHMAnd just to encourage you a little more to turn to this wonderful book, "The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society," here's a posting on Facebook from Sharon who says, "I read it with our book group, reread it, lent out my copy, had to buy a second because it's a keeper. Then this spring, a friend and I went to Guernsey to visit. It's a lovely place, well worth it. Above their visitor center in St. Peter Port, they have a special interactive display of the various language versions and the book covers. There is original communication between the author and publisher and editor. I love this book," says Sharon.
REHMAnd, of course, it's about to be made into a movie.
REHMIsn't that incredible. So you were about to say something about each of these characters on the island.
NEARYWell, the -- what I was saying is that The Literary Society was founded because there had been this pig picking, there had been a pig roast one night, which of course, was not supposed to happen...
NEARY...during the Occupation and some of the guests, including the main -- this character, Elizabeth, who plays a prominent role in the book, were coming home and they were stopped by the Germans. And Elizabeth immediately made up this story that they were meeting with the -- a literary society and that's how it became a club. But many of the people that joined the club really weren't readers at all and they just -- they pretended they had a literary society but it led them into reading.
NEARYAnd then they fell in love with certain authors, as Dawsey did with Charles Lamb, and Isola did with Anne Bronte. And they each had made a discovery about a book or a piece of history through this club. And with that device, then she brings in the whole idea of what literature can do, how it can sustain people and what it means in people's lives.
REHMThere is one very negative creature in this book whose name is Adelaide Addison. Talk about her, Peter, and why she proves to be such a rich character in this book.
REIDShe's a perfect foil to the inclusivity of this book and of the book club. I mean, I agree with Lynn completely. 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.
REIDBut Adelaide, she sits outside of this. She's not included and the bitterness there, she's a perfect -- you know, she shows the emblem of what this book is about, that she is outside of it. In fact, one of the characters actually says, I think it's Juliet herself, it made me feel like an islander instead of an outlander. That's what books do when they bring people together. They make all of us -- they break down barriers and make us all islanders.
REHMAdelaide writes some pretty nasty stuff to Juliet.
BASBANESWell, she's slandering her. She's slandering Elizabeth. The unseen presence, by the way, Elizabeth really becomes the focus of the book and we never meet her. She's away, she's this woman who was sent off to the continent. There were so many back stories, aren't there? You mentioned the children who were sent off -- the islanders sent their children to England prior to the invasion and they weren't allowed any communication. I didn't know anything about this at all.
BASBANESSending your children away...
BASBANES...taking them to the ship and sending them over to England...
REHMKnowing you may never see them again.
BASBANESReally. And then you see these airplanes flying over the channel all the time on their way to England to bomb and you don't know what's happening to your children, so that took extraordinary courage to do that. Elizabeth stays behind. She becomes kind of a heroin and is trying to find this particular woman that becomes the center of the story. And Adelaide tries to nix this. She doesn't want Juliet writing about Elizabeth at all because of the alleged collaboration with the German doctor...
BASBANES...which is another part of the back story here, I think.
REHM...indeed Elizabeth does have a relationship with Christian Hellman, Lynn.
NEARYWell, I found that very interesting. At first, I thought, well, this is good because she's challenging readers with this because Elizabeth, by the time we find out that she's had a relationship with a German soldier, we've all come to love her. She's this heroin, as you said, and she created the society, she's full of life, she's full of beans, as they say, she's really smart.
NEARYAnd we all like her. And then we find out, oh, the person she was in love with was a German officer. Well, how can that be? Of course, that challenges your whole way of thinking about her, which I thought was good because, because of the tendency of the novel took moved into the area of preciousness, as I said earlier, that maybe everybody was a little bit too pat.
NEARYSo that was very good. But then they also -- she also sort of created Christian in a way that he was sort of perfect in a certain kind of way. If you were going to fall in love with a German, it was okay to fall in love with Christian (unintelligible).
BASBANESWell, he's a doctor.
BASBANESHe's a physician, right.
REHMExactly. He's a physician, he's tall, he's blond, he's very good looking.
NEARYHe's a good person.
BASBANESAnd he's compassionate.
REHMAnd he is compassionate.
NEARYBut it did make you think about that tension that is there, especially on an island...
REHMOn an island, yeah.
NEARY...so small and these people are all living together. And it -- they get into the idea that relationships did develop.
REHMAnd there comes a child and that child is Kit, who is Elizabeth's daughter, Christian is the father. And we find out that because Elizabeth is, as you said, shipped off, the town begins to love and care for little Kit. It is really quite a story. One of the nasty letters in the book is in regard to the pets who were left behind.
BASBANESThey were used as food. The -- those islanders who left in a rush, in a hurry to flee for England with the invasion being imminent, they had to leave their animals behind. And apparently, Peter, this is one of the realities. If you've studied the history of the Occupation, this is one of the realities, I believe, that existed on the island, is that they were scrounging for food.
BASBANESAnd this was one of the four...
REIDScrounging for food for basics. I mean, people forget, these islands were completely cut off. There was no information, they knew nothing about what happened to their children for five years. I mean, in wartime these days, we don't suffer as a community the way the communities did in those days. And they had no idea what was going on and there are series of very well researched brutal reminders, just little slices, punctuating this book to remind you of how horrible life really was. No clothes, no shoes, no food. It was -- no information. Absolutely terrible.
REIDAnd I think it's a very important point about the Occupation because it was supposed to be, the Germans said, a model Occupation at first, but slowly, gradually, it became like every other Occupation across Europe, brutal in nature, 16,000...
REID...slave labor workers were brought in from Russia and Poland. And, I mean, the way they were treated was even more horrific.
REHMI've never even seen that word, T-O-D-T.
REIDIt was a German company, an engineering company, that basically was set up to do all the big projects for Hitler and the German army. They built bridges, they -- and the Channel Islands -- because Hitler was determined to see them as a "model Occupation" and to make sure that while he was focused on the Russian war, Britain didn't do a sneak attack to pull them back, he put more, per square foot, armaments and construction into these islands than anywhere else.
REHMBut the hideous part is that the 16,000 slave laborers came to work in the camps. And it was said that it was Rommel, whose idea this was to bring them in. And -- no, it was Himmler and it was Himmler's policy of death by exhaustion. "Work them hard. Don't waste valuable stuff -- food stuffs on them and let them die." I was just so taken aback by that.
BASBANESAnd of course is caring for one of these young slave laborers is a 16-year-old boy, apparently the Germans would let them go out and forage at night to find food, that way they wouldn't have to feed them. Well, the expectation is that they would return the next morning. This particular boy is taken in. This is Elizabeth's undoing, isn't it?
BASBANESIt's an islander who really informs on her, they're taking care of one of these boys who is in a pitiful state and they're nursing him back to health. And that's, again, one of these little stories that you don't really hear very much about. The 16,000, they sent 2,000 residents of Guernsey to concentration camps in Europe, apparently.
NEARYAnd that was amazing to me, too. The idea that -- well, I don't want to give the whole plot away, but the idea that people were sent to the concentration camps from Guernsey.
REHMHere's an e-mail from Kay who says, "I enjoyed the book, but found the beginning difficult with the letters. I also thought it ended too quickly without enough detail. This is a story that needs to be told. I'm so glad younger readers have the opportunity to learn more about the history of the island. How could they have been ignored? At last, the story is told." Why is it, Peter, do you think, that we know so little about this story of Guernsey?
REIDI think in the UK where I'm from, we know a lot more about it and it's very controversial because the writing of the history of it. Because it was the only part of British territory, if you like, that was successfully invaded by Hitler as a model Occupation. And many of the islanders worked for the Germans.
REIDWe have been brought up on decades of good versus evil, black versus white. War is horrible. You've just described many of the horrors. It's enormously complex. Ninety whatever percent of people had to just go along with the Occupation across Europe. And we know of the heroines and the heroes who were able to -- in The Resistance, who were able to do otherwise, but there is a horrible simplicity about saying anyone that just went along with it was a collaborator of some sort. And it's very difficult to write a history that is brutally honest. And a lot of the histories that have been written, I think, are whitewashes, frankly.
REIDAnd then there's a wonderful book called "The Model Occupation" by an author called Madeleine Bunting that is brutal. It's a very...
REHMSo an ironic title there, clearly.
REIDAnd when you read the full horror of it, it sits as a stark contrast to this book. And this is not the purpose of...
REHMOf this book.
REHMOf course. And if we can talk about the purpose of this book, it is how these human beings, under this horrible situation where there is no food, there's barely enough to eat, neighbors could be pitted against neighbors, but here is a tiny group who love reading and love books.
NEARYYeah, and that was their great solace during all of this. And the way that it brought them together -- and, as you said, brought them apart at times, with some of the funny scenes where they disagreed, but, you know, the way that it brought them together in such a sense of solidarity about -- and gave such purpose to their lives at a time when it must have been very hard, I think, to find purpose on this little island with the German soldiers living right next to you. I think maybe that's what really captures so well the -- just the way people had to live together and finding this literary group helped them so much.
REHMLynn Neary, a book correspondent for NPR and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We'll open the phones now. First to Ann Arbor, Mich. Good morning, Melody, you're on the air. Melody, are you there?
MELODYYes, good morning.
REHMGood morning to you. Please go right ahead. Go right ahead, Melody.
MELODYI agree with most of what you said, but 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.
REHMCan be. Nick, what do you think?
BASBANESI agree with her, actually. And I like the fact that we talk about these various books that people read. I love John Booker. All he will read is Seneca (unintelligible).
REHMYeah, that's all he'll read.
BASBANESThere's another fellow who proposes to his girlfriend by quoting Wilfred Owen. You know, it's -- we're not really getting too deeply into the books, which I thought was good, that we're just getting the perceptions. And it's how these books impact them in a very positive way. And I guess I do agree with the caller, in essence.
NEARYWell, I was going to say -- I haven't done it yet obviously based on my question -- my answer earlier about Charles Lamb, but it did make me curious about some of these authors that I didn't...
NEARY...know anything about or...
NEARY...haven't read or -- it peaks your curiosity.
REHMSure does. Let's go to Hollywood, Fla. where Stacy knows about Charles Lamb. Go right ahead, Stacy.
STACYCharles Lamb -- good morning everybody and thank you for this discussion. Charles Lamb was a great friend of Coleridge and Woodsworth. He was a graduate from the same university along with Coleridge and he had a stutter. He was brilliant, he was a brilliant conversationalist. And he was a renowned friend.
STACYAnd I don't know what happened in his later life. Obviously, you know, he started to write essays. Coleridge, as we all know, died young. Woodsworth became sorely about other things, but there's a fabulous, fabulous book called "The Friendship" and it's all about the coterie of people around Woodsworth and Coleridge. So, I don't know, it's worth reading another book.
NEARYThat's really -- thank you.
REHMYeah, I should say. Thanks for calling, Stacy. During the break, Nicholas Basbranes, you were talking about a stabbing that's mentioned in this book.
REHMThe Charles Lamb.
BASBANESOh, the -- we're talking about the pig, here? The...
REHMWell, but didn't Charles Lamb...
BASBANESOh, I'm sorry.
REHM...stab his sister?
BASBANESNo, I beg your pardon, his...
BASBANESI was on another plane, there. One thing I didn't know about Lamb -- or if I did, I was an English major many years ago, but he took care of his sister Mary and apparently -- Mary had killed their parents, apparently, and he had actually come into the room and she was holding the knife and that he actually kept -- he took care of her for the remainder of her life.
BASBANESI had either forgotten about that or didn't know it, but we get this in this novel.
REHMAuthor and critic, Nicholas Basbanes. We'll take a short break here and when we come back, more of "The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society." Stay with us.
REHMAnd, of course, "The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society" begins after the war is over. And here's a question from Dale in Cleveland, Ohio, who says, "The letter seemed to go back and forth so fast, sometimes as though in conversation, especially between Reynolds and Juliet.
REHMReynolds, we should mention, is Juliet's suitor who very much wants to marry her. He's an American publisher, he's handsome, he's got lots of money. He almost demands that she marry him and I won't tell what she decides to do, but the question is, were these letters carried by private courier? Is the British postal service especially efficient after World War II?" Peter.
REID(laugh) No idea.
REIDI did -- I have to say, it struck me and we were talking about this earlier, Lynn and I, a lot happened in a few months. We were comparing it to "84 Charing Cross Road," which happened over 20 years as an (unintelligible) novel. But this, goodness, there's a lot packed into this short time period.
BASBANESShe does arrive on the island by a mail boat. Juliet takes...
BASBANES...a mail boat to the island, as I recall.
REHMThat's true. And maybe that goes daily.
BASBANESSure. Mm-hmm. I bet.
NEARYAnd there were some telegrams in there, too.
REHMQuite right. Here's a posting from the drshow website. This individual says, "I am from Jersey, a neighboring island also occupied during World War II. The Occupation is a huge part of our history most people don't know anything about. My sister and I both bought the book for my dad for Christmas.
REHMHe was five years old at the outbreak of World War II. His father volunteered and was away when it became clear the Germans were coming. My grandmother went to England with my dad and his brother. Dad loved the book, said it felt like it was his story, too. Most of the family stayed on the island, two of his uncles sent by Germans to camps in Europe. Thankfully, both returned at the end of the war." Do we know how many came back, Peter?
REIDI don't, to be honest. I mean, it's a very small population, 75,000 in Guernsey, for example. They have, you know, a lot of immigration and migration going backwards and forwards and actually, quite a young population, surprisingly for an island, but it's a beautiful place to live, so it's not surprising people do stay there. I don't know how many went back.
BASBANESMay I ask Peter a question?
BASBANESI wonder, Peter, do you -- how do you think -- now, Mary Ann Shaffer's an American writer. Does she capture the British idiom in her writing, do you think?
REIDInteresting. I thought the letters -- I wasn't alive in 1946, not even a twinkle at that stage, I'm afraid, but I felt the letters were very fresh, for want of a better term, for people writing in 1946. I felt they weren't really the sort of language that would've been used.
REHMMight have been used then.
REIDIt was -- but, you know, that's...
REHMThat's a good point.
REID...probably not what we want to read in this day and age.
REIDAnd this is a great, wonderful read with a very serious message and this isn't a historical novel, really.
REIDThis is more about a universal theme.
NEARYIt's funny, though, 'cause I found the voices so authentic. I felt like they were very authentic and that was one of the things that I liked about the book and was impressed, by Mary Ann Shaffer and her niece, Annie Barrows, with her help. I felt like she really did capture of -- I believed that these were people...
NEARY...you know, in 1946 writing these letters, but we were laughing about it a little bit before the show when he mentioned that -- I said, well, maybe it's the voice of our idea of what we get from the movies about that time of year. I don't -- of about that time of history.
NEARYI don't know whether it's authentic, you know, but I did find it...
BASBANESI did a LexisNexis search of British reviews and they were uniformly positive.
BASBANESThey thought that she did a good job.
REHMAll right. Let's go to Ray in Florahome, Fla. Good morning, you're on the air.
RAYGood morning, ma'am. How are you?
RAYI just happened to catch the -- I haven't read the book yet, but I'm certainly going to. My former father-in-law and his brother and sister were young children on Guernsey and they were sent to an orphanage in England during the war and their parents stayed there, of course. And his mother wrote a book called "Isolated Island," which is about Guernsey and I believe it covered that part of the war as well.
REHMAnd did your father-in-law go back to Guernsey after the war?
RAYYep. Yeah, they were still children. They went back, were reunited with their parents. And, you know, as adults, left. They actually live in the United -- he actually lives in the United States now and...
REHMWell, it's a happy ending. Don't know how many of those orphans or those children placed in orphanages came back. Indeed, weren't some of the children actually placed in individual homes rather than orphanages?
BASBANESThat's what's suggested and I think...
BASBANES...I think the young boy, Eli, who is sent in this book to England does -- he does stay with a family and they take very good care of him and he regards them as surrogate parents, apparently, and he comes back. And by that point, his parents are dead and he's being raised by his grandfather. So you have these extraordinary, ironic tales, don't you, that his parents are gone, but now he's being raised by the grandfather. There must be so many different stories like that that you have a similar experience.
REHMAll right. To Jane in Acton, Mass. Good morning. Jane, are you there?
JANEOh, I'm sorry.
REHMLost it. Sorry. Let's go to Eric in Boston, Mass. Good morning to you.
ERICHi, this is Eric. So you hear me clear?
ERICOkay. Let me ask your great guests about this. I've been doing -- I live in the middle of four of the greatest music schools, you know, in Boston, Berklee, New England Conservatory, Symphony Hall's across the street, blah, blah, blah. And I asked them all, I've been wondering where Green Dolphin Street is, the famous jazz song.
ERICIt's probably the most, you know, played jazz song by everybody. And my research led to possibly it being a real or a fictional street on Guernsey, probably much later than the war. There was a movie and Miles Davis wrote the music for it. And so I'm wondering if Green Dolphin Street is there. And if it's not, is it fictionalized in the novel by, I think, it's Elizabeth Goudge?
REHMOkay. Eric, I think that you struck out with this panel.
REHMAnd I think what you're going to have to do is go to the Isle of Guernsey yourself.
REHMAnd a number of folks have written to tell us about the British television series "Island at War" that tells the story of the German Occupation of the Channel Islands. I'm sure you've seen it, Peter.
REIDI haven't. A friend gave me the first disc set last night, so (laugh).
REHMReally. Tell us...
REIDI'm afraid I haven't had a chance to watch it.
REHMYeah, yeah, but do you think that Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows have really created an accurate picture of the island itself?
REIDYes, I do. I think, as I said earlier, it's not meant to be a historical novel.
REIDBut 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.
REHMLynn Neary, tell me what you think about the relationship between Juliet and Mark Reynolds or the lack thereof.
NEARYOh, okay. All right. Well, I was laughing earlier saying, my goodness, so much happened to Juliet. She's got a multi-millionaire asking her to marry -- for her hand in marriage. And anyway, we won't go in (laugh)...
REHMHe's sending her roses and flowers every day.
NEARYHe sends her roses. I'm a little bit -- I can understand why she was taken with him at first, because it's very flattering...
NEARY...and he's this very good looking, debonair, wealthy man who's pursuing her. And of course, she goes with it. I actually think she should've broken it off (laugh) -- she should've broken it off fairly early on in the relationship. I'm surprised she let it go.
REHMYou think she dragged it on a little bit.
NEARYWell, I was surprised she let it go as long as she did...
NEARY'Cause I could tell she didn't like him.
REIDIf I had to criticize this novel, it would be the characters. I felt the good characters were too good, the bad were too bad. It was heroine and hero. And the German officer we talked about earlier, he had to be perfect in every other aspect of his life, other than the fact he was working for the German Army.
REIDI find the character development a bit shallow, but we were talking earlier as well, Jane Austen, I found the same thing in "Pride and Prejudice," one of the all-time greatest stories ever written, but yet the characters were very one dimensional. There was the intelligent one, the far too pretty. You know, as I say, I don't think it's so much about the character development here and more about the message of what they were trying to get across.
NEARYAnd the book does have hints of Jane Austen.
BASBANESWe can all agree that Jane Austen and Juliet Ashton have the same initials, too.
BASBANESAnd that's not a coincidence.
REHMHadn't thought of that.
NEARYAnd Dawsey and Darcy.
BASBANESDawsey and Darcy.
REHMYeah, I hadn't thought of that.
REHMGood point. All right. Let's go to Pensacola, Fla. Good morning, Dean.
DEANGood morning. I love your shows. Everyone tells...
DEAN...of it. In 1943, I was in fourth grade in Roanoke, Va. And my teacher was a British woman from Guernsey. And her husband had been taken by the Germans and, of course, we were too young to ask questions and felt too shy to ask more questions about her life and how she got there. And I wondered if many women escaped the islands and how they might've gotten to the U.S.
REHMPeter, any thoughts?
REIDI honestly don't know. I just know that there was a lot of immigration from the islands to America, but I'm not sure of the numbers or how.
BASBANESOf course, a lot of GIs married British women that came.
REHMTrue, true. What's the current population of Guernsey, about?
REIDAbout 70,000, I believe, yeah.
REHMSeventy thousand, yeah. And do people tend to stay there?
REIDI looked at the statistics this morning online and they do move out, as you'd expect from an island. It's part of the curse of being an island population, but it is also an incredibly beautiful island. It has a strong financial sector, manufacturing, tourism, of course, because of its beauty and...
REHMAnd this book.
REIDThis book will help.
REHMTourism has gone up, as I understand.
REIDBut it sits so close to northern France, but on the gulf streams, so the winters are mild, the summers are beautiful, not too hot, not too cold, very Goldilocks. It's a very nice place. And one of the emblems of the island is the Guernsey cow, we were talking about this earlier, just happens to be a golden color. I mean, it's so emblematic of the island. It's a beautiful island.
BASBANESDidn't Victor Hugo live there for 15 years?
REHMWow, wow. Peter Reid, a former British diplomat and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." And a caller here in Washington, D.C. Good morning, Daphne.
REHMGo right ahead.
DAPHNEYes, go ahead.
REHMNo. I'm waiting for you.
DAPHNEOkay. I'm very interested in the discussion today because my mother married -- who was from Guernsey, married an American and immigrated to the United States prior to the war, but her parents were on the island during the Occupation and my cousins were evacuated from England and I could go on with endless stories.
DAPHNEBut my point that I found very fascinating about the book, I got five copies for Christmas the year it came out, was that it was very historically accurate. All the stories that were told in the book coincided with stories I heard from my grandparents, from my aunt and uncle, from my cousins, from my mother. And I thought the author did a great job of capturing what I had heard as a child in stories from my relatives.
REHMInteresting. I'm glad you called, Daphne, and so glad you enjoyed this book. Let's go now to Barry. Lots of callers from Florida today. Barry is in Ft. Lauderdale. Good morning, you're on the air.
BARRYGood morning, Diane. I grew up in the Channel Islands in Jersey, actually. And my parents and their families go back generations on the island, which is quite rare, actually. And just like to share a couple of little anecdotes.
BARRYFirst of all, the Normandy landings changed the whole Occupation because the islands were now cut off from supplies, not only obviously by the allies, but also by the Germans. And that was the really bad year and a half, so when I can remember my grandmother telling me how they would make soup from acorns.
BARRYI had a friend at school who I found out when I was 18 was the son of a German officer and a Jersey girl. And on the -- when the island was liberated in 1945, she had her hair cut off and was sent on a boat out of the island. They were called Jerrybags. It was quite awful. I wasn't around then, but he grew up with his grandparents and I took his grandparents as their mom and dad.
BARRYAnd finally, if I may say, my grandfather was a plumber on the island. There was a lot of sort of collaboration. And he had communication, he had a secret radio under the floorboards in his plumbing shop. And someone split on him and a German soldier came around and he sat on a box whilst the German soldier went everywhere in that plumber shop, never asked him to stand up. He left. My grandfather said, I went home, my pants were a complete mess, but I'd been saved. I would've been in a concentration camp.
REHMWhoa. Whoa. What a story, Barry.
BARRYYeah, and it was a trying time.
REHMIndeed. And I'm afraid we are out of time. One final thing I wanted to say, no salt on this island, so people cooked with saltwater. I mean, really.
NEARYWell, that's the kind of detail that was so interesting about this book.
REHMAnd the book, of course, "The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society" by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. Next month, we'll be talking about Upton Sinclair's book "The Jungle." Thank you all so much for joining me. And thank you, all, for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
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