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12 November 2011

By Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. Published by Dell, paperback dated May 2009.
reviewed by Shari Aarlton.

I thought this was a brilliant book, gentle, sensitive, loving, witty, and sweet in turns while tossing in all sorts of literary excerpts and allusions.
It starts with an author who receives a letter a year after World War II, sent by a pig-farmer on the English Channel Island of Guernsey asking about writing by Charles Lamb. She replies, starts getting letters from other people who were on the island during the German Occupation, and who belonged to this society – which had started as a way to get out of possible trouble with the German curfew.
Gradually in the letters that flow between the author and what have become her friends on the island, she learns the story of the occupation, and of Elizabeth Mckenna whose character holds this book together. Finally she flies to the island to visit, meets Elizabeth’s little daughter, Dawsey the pig-farmer, and all those who have been writing to her. The outcome changes her life.
The book bounces back and forth between tales of the German Occupation of Guernsey, and the current day (actually 1946) when the author is writing and receiving the letters. You get to know her, her family and friends, and the people of the island in a series of letters that are totally believable.
I loved this so much that I looked up the author, and was really sorry to find that she died just about the time that this book was published. And it was a long time coming. Ms. Shaffer was stranded on Guernsey during a visit in 1976 or 1980. (I saw both dates quoted) and while there she read a book about the occupation of the Channel islands during WWII. Years later her book club teased her into writing a book, and this was the result.
Like Lyn, I often look at an author who has written one or only a handful of terrific books and then died, and wonder what other work they’d have done if they’d lived longer, and I think that Mary Ann Shaffer’s death may have cheated us all out of some wonderful writing.

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