Hidden Gems – End of Summer Vacation Listening
September 02, 2013
My recent blog about the book, Letters from Yellowstone, reminded me of my last trip to Yellowstone National Park two years ago. My wife and I flew to Salt Lake City and then drove the scenic route up through the Grand Tetons to Yellowstone. While driving, we listened to the audiobook, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. Like Letters from Yellowstone, Guernsey consists of a series of letters between a diverse, fascinating cast of characters.
The Guernsey in the title refers to one of the Channel Islands in the English Channel between Britain and France. These islands were the only part of Britain that Germany successfully invaded during World War II. The letters tell the story of life on Guernsey during the German occupation from 1940 to 1945. It is told by the reminiscences of the Guernsey Islanders.
The protagonist of the story, Juliet Ashton, is an author and journalist. She is searching for a subject for her next book when she gets a letter, out of the blue, from Dawsey Adams, a farmer on Guernsey. Dawsey had found Juliet’s address on the flyleaf of a used book she once owned and had sold. He writes to ask if she can refer him to a London bookseller who can provide him with books by post, as there were no longer any booksellers on the island. Juliette helps Dawsey and, through their correspondence, learns of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. She starts a correspondence with other members of the book club and finds a subject for her new book. Since the Islanders had been isolated by the Germans from the outside world during the war, there was a great deal of interest in Britain about the islanders and their “lost years.”
Juliet eventually moves to Guernsey and takes in Kit, a young girl who is the result of love affair between a German officer and an Islander. Kit’s father was transferred to a new post on the continent and never found out about his “love child.” Kit’s mother, in assisting a Polish POW held by the Germans, is arrested and sent to a prison camp in France. Kit, the foundling child, is raised by members of the literary society. As the book says, she is passed from member to member, much like a book on loan from the library.
This book is a great addition to any summer reading project. As the title of this blog indicates, it also contains a “hidden gem.” Hidden gems are little snippets from the text that have a personal meaning or connection to the reader. In our case, Guernsey’s gem was revealed as my wife and I were listening to the book on our Yellowstone vacation. In the story, one of the literary society members writes to Juliet about a book he read during the occupation. The book was a series of poems by the ancient Roman author, Catullus. This author was known for his rather scandalous verse. When we heard this, my wife and I broke out laughing. She had told me a story of her college days about a misunderstood assignment for a Latin class. The assignment was to translate one of Catullus’ verses. Unfortunately, she had gotten the assignment wrong and had translated the wrong poem, finding it to be one of his “raciest” ones. Unfortunately, she was called on to recite her translation in class. Embarrassed, she proceeded with the other class members, wondering just which poem she had translated! Her instructor’s only comment was, “That’s a very nice translation...”
Before I close, you may be wondering about the “potato peel pie” part of the Guernsey Literary Society’s name. I won’t spoil the story that goes with that name. You’ll just have to read this wonderful little book to find out (and perhaps find your own hidden gem).