Lynette facilitates the book discussion group at the Helmerich Library. At each meeting they read books on a particular topic or books by the same author and share their opinions. Below is the newsletter she shared with her group after their November meeting.
At our last meeting we were finally able to discuss the national bestseller with the quirky name, THE GUERNSEY LITERARY AND POTATO PEEL PIE SOCIETY . It has been a favorite of book clubs around the world, and was a favorite of most of our readers. The historical novel unfolds through a series of letters to and from London author Juliet Ashton in 1946 as England was staggering back to its feet after the Blitz and the years of war. She notes, “Everything is so broken….the roads, the buildings, the people. Especially the people.” Her life changes with the arrival of a letter from a stranger on the Channel Island of Guernsey, newly freed from Nazi occupation. Their “literary society” began as an elaborate way to fool the occupiers. But it turned into a life-sustaining series of debates and discussions around great literature during a brutal five years of complete isolation from the outside world. Even their non-readers were converted! Potato peel pie refreshments were all their society could manage when butter, milk, sugar and salt were not available. Other interesting details of innovation, resilience, and bravery were brought to life in the Guernsey letters.
Authors Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows capture the lovely English wit, and delightful Guernsey eccentricities of the characters through their letters. Though some readers found it more difficult to get into the flow of the story because of this format, all were glad they persevered. With names like Dawsey who loves the author Charles Lamb; and Isola; and Eben who quotes Shakespeare, several of our readers found the characters to be more unique and personal as they came alive through their letters. Some said that this has become one of their all-time favorite books. Only one member of our group has ever visited Guernsey, but another actually had a great- great-great grandmother who came as an orphaned child of 10 to this country from Guernsey.
A contrasting novel, much darker in tone, NIGHT OF FLAMES by Douglas Jacobson, was given good reviews. “I loved it,” said one of our readers. Telling a dramatic story of the non-Jewish Polish resistance, one of the battles involved Polish cavalrymen on their horses, confronting the tanks. Other recommended and related titles about Poland during WWII: THE ZOOKEEPER’S WIFE by Diane Ackerman, and SARAH’S KEY by Tatiana de Rosnay. Also noted on topic, the exceptional biography THE HIDDEN POPE by Tulsa’s Darcy O’Brien about the Polish Pope,John Paul II’s lifelong friendship with Jerzy Klugler who was Jewish.
The French occupation and resistance was the topic the novel SUITE FRANCAISE by Irene Nemirovsky, based on her own experiences of deprivation and horror as wealthy Jewish families fled Paris for the countryside. Part one of the novel, detailing this exodus, is the strongest. Our readers did not like the memoir RESISTANCE by Agnes Humbert.
Another memoir, even more grim, is WOMAN IN BERLIN , written anonymously by a survivor of the Russian advance into Berlin at the end of the war. Mass rape and its terrors for women in the city is a major theme of the book. The endless horrors, of war, even for those not directly fighting, is a universal and important reminder from each of these books.
FOUR FREEDOMS by highly regarded novelist John Crowley, set in Oklahoma among folks that work in an aircraft factory, was not generally highly regarded by our readers. And one reader was disappointed that only 2 of the four freedoms made much of an appearance.
A group favorite was the unique novel by Markus Zusak, THE BOOK THIEF . It was described as touching, heartfelt but not sentimental, and unforgettable. Because it discusses the book burnings in Nazi Germany it strikes a chord with all who love books.