It is a love affair of mine that has been growing steadily since my childhood. With library card in hand, I departed for worlds both known and unknown, real and imaginary for hours on end. My imagination soared and I lived vicariously through so many writers and times. It has given my life a sense of context as I have moved through other academic subjects, allowing me to see things from multiple perspectives and potential realities. Reading, and the rich materials that I had at my disposal during my childhood, offered me an amazing, real life training in thinking, “outside the box.”
“My” books allowed me to glimpse at, and even experience, a world far beyond the boundaries of my suburban upbringing. The characters I discovered often felt like friends to me as I experienced life alongside them.
But, in a very few books, the characters became so real, so vital and vibrant, to me that I mourned them when the last page was turned. I love my literary characters, but the book I have recently finished gave me characters of such depth and realism that I actually wasn’t ready to part with them at the end of the novel. While the ending was lovely and appropriate, I ache from the loss of seeing what is next in their lives. I have only experienced this one other time. When I completed, The Help by Kathryn Stockett, I was bewildered, never having felt so strongly for a certain set of characters. My friend, Margaret, who recommended and loaned me the book, summed it up perfectly when she said that she was, “just not ready to let them go.”
At our regular Quilt/Sewing Group meetings, one of the ladies suggested we read some novels to have more to talk about when we get together. She selected the book, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. I will admit that I haven’t seen many epistilary novels in recent years, but I didn’t find it off putting. It almost felt like you were getting to see some priviledged information, like a biographer who discovered some packet of hidden letters that allows him or her to be “in the moment” with the writer as events unfolded.
It is also a reminder that our modern affection for tweets at 120 characters and Facebook blurbs are a weak substitution for letters, handwritten, carefully thought out and composed, elevating a moment into words and emotions. It took me back to my school days when receiving a letter from a pen pal was worth celebrating (Hi Karen!) and when writing one was important enough to set aside time for.
I have only just realized how much I miss receiving those letters in the mail, the anticipation running wild to see what my friend would tell me next of her life and adventures. Those memories gave me a feeling of kinship with Juliet, the main character of the novel. Her exuberance over finding her new pen pals on Guernsey is contagious and she writes to her friends Sophie and Sidney to express the emotion that is bubbling inside her over this new source of discovery.
Perhaps I find a sense of connection in that my parents met via letter writing, when he was in the Navy and she in High School. Who knew that a chance introduction (from my Mother’s childhood friend and neighborhood paper boy, no less) by letter would start a chain of events that have lead to over 50 years of wedded life?
This story also weaves a very balanced tale of what life would have been like under German occupation during World War II. Refreshingly, the Germans, while the enemy, are viewed in the story as individuals, with some being horrid and others full of kindness and mercy. It doesn’t shy away from the pain and suffering that was endured, but showed that the suffering in Guernsey would have been of a different sort than of Londoners during and after the Blitz. Lack of communication and the inability to know news of family or the fate of mainland England and the rest of the world added a dimension of suffering that may be beyond that which hunger alone could have ever supplied.
The communication and letters that the Guernsey families so craves pours forth with raw emotion throughout the tale.
This is one that is most definitely worth reading and passing along.
What have YOU been reading lately? Would you recommend it?
Till next time,