DESTINATION: Guernsey, the Channel Islands, Great Britain
BOOK: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (2008) by Mary Anne Shaeffer and Annie Barrows
A GUEST POST by Anne-Sophie Redisch
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society is a lovely book, written entirely in the form of letters, mostly between the main character Juliet Ashton, a young author in 1940s Britain – and numerous pen friends.
One day, Juliet receives a letter from Dawsey Adams, a Guernsey farmer, who owns a book with Juliet’s name and address written in it, that once belonged to her. And thus begins an engaging correspondence between the two.
Through his letters, Dawsey paints a lively picture of everyday life in German-occupied Guernsey (the Channel Islands were the only part of the British Isles occupied during World War II).
He relates stories of meetings in the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, a club originally set up as a front by a group of islanders needing to hide a pig from the Nazi occupiers. Oddly, the Germans seemed to tolerate intellectually oriented gatherings. During their meetings, the colourful members of the Society talked and ate – and for a few hours each week, forgot the horrors of the war.
Our protagonist, Juliet, finds herself increasingly drawn in by Dawsey’s depictions of Guernsey life and all its wonderful characters. And one day, to the outspoken dismay of her rich, self-satisfied businessman boyfriend, she sets off for Guernsey. Naturally, her relationship with the smug millionaire is doomed.
The book was written by Mary Anne Shaffer, who after being stranded in Guernsey in 1980, was inspired to write a story set here. During the book’s final phases, she became ill and she left it to her niece to finish work with the editors. Sadly, she died and so, this is her only book. I would have liked to read more by this author. She depicts characters, village life, the atmosphere so brilliantly and I was immediately drawn to Guernsey. (Ed. note: and she writes about her visit in her blog).
My daughters and I arrived by sea – and, like Juliet, we first spotted the island, as “the sun broke beneath the clouds and set the cliffs shimmering into silver”. I would have liked to travel in time as well, but a visit to 1946 Guernsey was out of the question. To get an idea of how it might have been, though, we visited the German Occupation Museum, showcasing among other WWII relics and memorabilia, a war-time street in St Peter Port.
Luckily, the quaintly named Guernsey capital hasn’t completely changed. Many of the buildings still stand. The narrow passages, stairways and the cobbled streets are the same. Charming, individual little shops remain. My only gripe with Guernsey turned out to be the traffic. The narrow country lanes aren’t built for the sheer number of cars, too many of them large SUVs. But even so, it wasn’t difficult to shut out the noise and stress of the present-day traffic and picture horse drawn carts and a few 1940s cars rambling across the streets of St Peter Port.
For an even better sense of history, we hopped on a ferry to the neighbouring little island Herm. With gravel roads, it’s completely car free. And completely adorable. In fact, I wonder if Juliet ever went to Herm. She was curious, an explorer. I like to think she did.
Anne-Sophie Redisch is a bilingual writer who loves hopping off a train in a new city. Her two daughters often come along, enlivening the travel experience. She has lived in the USA, New Zealand and Norway, and her work appears regularly in in-flight magazines and various Scandinavian and English media. She blogs at Sophie’s World and tweets as SophieR.
Anne-Sophie not only wrote this terrific review–which makes ME want to go to Guernsey–how about you? But she also supplied the photographs that accompany the review. Be sure to visit her lovely blog, particularly the article linked above about her trip to the Channel Islands. Thanks Sophie!! To show your appreciation for introducing us to the Channel Islands, how about hitting one of those sharing buttons below??
12 thoughts on “A Survival Story: Guernsey”
It is amazing just how many kinds of lives can be lived.
Thanks for this great review. I adore the Channel Islands. Jersey can feel a bit money-focussed, but like the comment above says, scratch beneath the surface. The smaller islands are not like that at all, they’re just all-round adorable.
I spent a day in Jersey some years ago and it felt a bit like a duty-free shop. But I suspect that if you scratch below the surface, there is a fascinating history there. I assume that Guernsey is the same.
And, by the way, the Jersey and Guernsey cows do take their names from the islands as they were initially bred there.
Yeap. Islands are fascinating. Another isteresting place is St Kilda off the coast of Scotland. Has anyone read any books about St Kild (like “The Life and Death of St Kilda” etc). -r
Does anyone know why islands fascinate us so? No one ever thinks of lists of what music, food, books, etc. they want with them on a desert. . . just a desert island.
Oh I enjoyed this book. Thanks for sharing your experience there!
Would love to go to Guernsey some day. I have a friend whose French mom came from there.
I’m going to Guernsey! And taking 20 or 30 people with me. Inspired by this wonderful book, my local college adult education program is offering a trip to Guernsey plus London, Canterbury, Normandy and Paris — and they asked me to plan and lead the tour. It’s described here: http://www.cravencc.edu/educational/continuing/travel-international.cfm
Our tour of Guernsey will be planned and led by Annette Henry, a Guernsey native whose parents literally survived the war by eating potato peels. I’m really excited about seeing the island after having read the book two or three times.
And I couldn’t help noticing how close I was to Guernsey when I was in Bruges a few days ago. My husband wanted to know if the cows were named for the islands Jersey and Guernsey and I assume that is the case. Anybody verify?
Home. Jet lagged. And VERY grateful for all the fabulous guest posts we’ve had in September.
thanks so much, Sophie.
(Your travel librarian)
Wow, I just love that photo of the bus stop!
“The Guernsey L and P P P S” is certainly an interesting and (mostly) fun book. For more depth, check out “The Book of Ebenezer Le Page” by G. B. Edwards. This is the fictional memoir of a curmudgeonly man born with the 20th century who lived through both world wars and on to his 80s. This is the one that made me want to visit the Channel Islands.
Read a book about living on one of the channel islands during the 70s. I need to find the title…very interesting. Different pace of life. I have heard about this book…need to pick up “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society” . Thanks for sharing. -r
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