Idealists on Guernsey Island

Guernsey Island,

“If you didn’t have some sense of idealism, then what is there to sustain you?” ~ James Carville

“You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, who had ever been alive.” ~ James Baldwin

This post started off very differently. I was going to talk about how comforting I found this book because of the love and hope that is generated among the characters. But a friend of mine posted something on Facebook after Super Tuesday that made me think about what the word idealism really means and how we act or don’t act upon our idealism. Somehow that related to many of the characters in this book.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows is a seemingly gentle look at how reading books connected the characters and how it helped them through extremely rough times. It’s the sort of story I love where wounded people form a found family and help each other heal.

That’s what the book is on the surface. The under layers are about so much more. Juliet, the main character, is fascinated by the founding member of the Literary Society, Elizabeth, who stood up for the members of her community against the Nazis. She was sent to a concentration camp as a result. Because of her courage, almost everyone on the island holds her in high esteem. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The book is based on actual events during WW II when the Nazis occupied the Channel Islands, part of Britain. Guernsey is the largest island in the chain. Of course, the Nazi’s idea was to use Guernsey as a jumping off point to invade England, which in the end never happened.

The story unfolds through letters shortly after the war between members of the Guernsey Literary Society and Juliet, a young journalist. During the war her assignment was to write a humorous column in one of the London papers in an attempt to keep everyone’s spirits up as bombs were falling all around them. Shortly after the war her columns were turned into a book and somehow someone in the Society got ahold of a copy. They write asking her to send books so they can rebuild their library.

Juliet is fascinated by the story of the survivors of the occupation. Why hadn’t she known about it during the war? As more members of the society begin writing to her she’s touched by their stories. And they begin to love her so much that they ask her to come for a visit. At home she’s beset by an eager rich American businessman who wants her to marry him. She’s not sure how she feels about him. Fortunately she gets an assignment to write about how reading helped people survive the war and she decides to go to Guernsey for a visit to finish research for her article. In the back of her mind, she might write about book about the islander’s experiences. Once there, she not only gets caught up in the lives of her new friends, but she finds a kind of peace that she hadn’t acknowledged she was looking for.

Though Juliet forms deep friendships and finds a the home she never thought she’d have, it’s the absent Elizabeth who inspires the book she’s working on. Elizabeth is the one who inspired the members of the society to look out for each other during and after the war. When Juliet arrives on Guernsey, Elizabeth’s fate is unknown. They hope and pray she will be found and come back. Until then they band together to raise her daughter who was fathered by a Nazi doctor who helped them against the orders of his superiors.

To Juliet’s delight, the members of the society welcome her into their circle as if she had always belonged. And as the book wended it’s way to it’s conclusion, I found deep satisfaction in the affect Elizabeth, the Doctor, and their child has on the group. They extend their love outwards to encompass others who are trying to heal from the wounds inflicted by the war. The members of the society are convinced that if they show love, caring and compassion to those who need it, they can make the world a better place. Who wouldn’t want a support group like that? The reviewer from The Christian Science Monitor wrote, “I’ve never wanted to join a club so desperately as I did while reading Guernsey …” I felt the same way.

So, if you’re looking for a feel good book, you might want to consider reading The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, even if it’s just to find out why they chose such an eccentric name for their group. When I compare what those characters went through, and I’m sure it’s a pretty accurate picture of what the real inhabitants went through, I feel so much better about what’s happening in my life. And I’m determined to be more idealistic and stand up for people who can’t stand up for themselves.

Thanks for reading, liking and commenting. What books have you read that give you hope for the future? Tell us in the comments below.

Lucinda Sage-Midgorden © 2020

Lucinda is the author of The Space Between Time, an award finalist in the “Fiction: Fantasy” category of the 2017 Best Book Awards. It’s a little bit like Outlander in that it’s a historical, time-travel, magical realism, novel. Except that Jenna’s life is shattered and she must put her life back together. When she finds old journals as she’s clearing out her mother’s house, she joins consciousness with her three-times great-grandmother, Morgan. She is able to come back to her own life at intervals and apply what she’s learned to heal and forgive.

The Space Between Time is available in all ebook formats at Smashwords and for Kindle at Amazon, or you can find the ebook at iBooks or Barnes and Noble. If you prefer a physical copy, you can find a print-on-demand version at Amazon. Stay tuned for news when the audiobook version is published.

Published by lucindasagemidgorden

I grew up in the West, the descendant of people traveling by wagon train to a new life. Some of their determination and wanderlust became a part of me. I imagine them sitting around the campfire telling stories, which is why I became first a theatre artist, then a teacher and now a writer. They are all ways of telling stories.

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