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Sunday, July 3, 2016


It would have been after dark then, but the founding of the Literary Society on Guernsey might have happened on a village road like this.
Sadly American author Mary Ann Shaffer died from cancer in 2008 shortly after her life’s work was published keeping her from enjoying the worldwide success of her creative fiction.

Her novel (let’s call it a literary treasure), “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society” became a best seller and gained solid reviews, including the Washington Post and the New York Times among others.   Rumors of late (2016) suggest Michelle Dockery will star in a film version

Three things make this historic fiction remarkable.

a. It is presented in a collection of letters penned between a writer based in London with inhabitants of the Island of Guernsey, a British protectorate of the coast of Brittany, France.

b. Cleverly written so no narrative is needed, the reader is immersed into post war 1946 so thoroughly that a heartfelt bond between author, characters and readers is quickly established.

c.  Readers are gifted to become part of the book but not in an artificial way. It’s as if a neighbor discovered a trove of letters and everyone sits in the living room reading them.

The book came very close to never being published and sadly it is the first and last by Mary Ann Shaffer.  After the manuscript had been accepted for publication (2006), the book's editor requested some changes that required substantial rewriting, but around that time Shaffer's health had deteriorated dramatically (she died on 16 February 2008). She asked the daughter of her sister Cynthia, Annie Barrows, who by that time was a well-established author of children's literature, to finish the editing and rewriting. Barrows did so, and thereby became a listed co-author on the work.

Twenty years earlier, Shaffer visited Europe with a stop in Guernsey.  Because the English Channel was fogged in she availed herself to the airport book store and read about the remarkable history of the Channel Islands during German occupation.  There the idea for her fiction was born.

Mary Ann Shaffer
During the writing of her literary society novel, she worked as an editor, a librarian and in bookshops.  Her niece Annie Barrows, who as the author of the children’s series Ivy and Bean, as well as The Magic Half, has remarked her aunt was a
vivid story teller as well.

America is blessed having such a soulful tradition of exceptional interpersonal fiction coming from the experiences of its southern writers.  Mary Ann Shaffer of West Virginia earned her place alongside with Pat Conroy, Harper Lee and William Faulkner with only one work.

Yes, “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society” is that good—By Thomas Shess, Editor, daily online magazine.

Because communications from Guernsey and the other Channel Islands were cut no word of or from the children evacuated from the islands were heard by islander parents between 1940 and 1945.
Press Reviews
“I can’t remember the last time I discovered a novel as smart and delightful as this one, a world so vivid that I kept forgetting this was a work of fiction populated with characters so utterly wonderful that I kept forgetting they weren’t my actual friends and neighbors. Treat yourself to this book please—I can’t recommend it highly enough.”
– Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love

“Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows have written a wondrous, delightful, poignant book — part Jane Austen, part history lesson. The letters in The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society aren’t addressed to you, but they are meant for you. It’s a book everyone should read. An absolute treasure.”
– Sarah Addison Allen, author of Garden Spells

Saint Peter Port, Guernsey, Channel Islands
“Here’s who will love this book: anyone who nods in profound agreement with the statement, “Reading keeps you from going gaga.” The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is a delight. Tart, insightful and fun.”
–Mary Doria Russell, author of The Sparrow, A Thread of Grace and Dreamers of the Day

“Put your hand on your heart to keep it from flying off to the lovely magical literary island Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows have created in The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. This novel is a delightful mix of fine writing, powerful emotions, glorious settings and amazing characters who deal with life in a way that will have readers falling in love on every single page.”
– Kris Radish, author of Searching for Paradise and Dancing Naked at the Edge of Dawn

“Charming…so clever…so vivid and moving.”
– Publishers Weekly

“Marvelous…Reminiscent of Helene Hanff’s 84 Charing Cross Road, this is a warm, funny, tender and thoroughly entertaining celebration of the power of the written word.”
– Library Journal

“A sure winner.”
– Kirkus Reviews

“For sheer enjoyment, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is one of the best books of the year….[a] delightful, unforgettable novel.”
– Bookpage

“A jewel…Poignant and keenly observed, Guernsey is a small masterpiece about love, war and the immeasurable sustenance to be found in good books and good friends.”
– People

Liberation of Guernsey, May 1945
“A book-lover’s delight, an implicit and sometimes explicit paean to all things literary.”
– Chicago Sun-Times

“Written in warm life-affirming prose…an ideal choice for book groups.”
– St. Petersburg Times

“I’ve never wanted to join a club as desperately as I did while reading The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society…Enchanting”
– Christian Science Monitor

“Traditional without seeming stale, and romantic without being naive…It’s tempting to throw around terms like “gem” when reading a book like this. But Guernsey is not precious…This is a book for firesides or long train rides. It’s as charming and timeless as the novels for which its characters profess their love.”
– San Francisco Chronicle Book Review

“Revealing much about the aftermath of World War II in England, the novel is at once an unlikely love story, a portrayal of heroism and survival, and a subtle homage to the bond forged by literature.”
– Charlotte Observer

“The letters that make up this novel shed light on the suffering of the Channel Islanders during the German occupation, but there is also a rich vein of humor. After Julia moves to Guernsey to work on her book, she finds it impossible to leave the island and her new friends, a feeling readers may share when they finish this delightful novel.”
– Boston Globe

“I could not put the book down. I have recommended it to all my friends.”
– Newsday

The Channel Islands were the only British territory occupied by German troops in World War II.  Guernsey, shown here had 13,000 Germans stationed there.  Photo is of the troops arriving along North Esplanade in St. Peter Port, the capital of Guernsey, 1940.

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