The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society - Mary Ann Shaffer, Annie Barrows

Oh, no, I thought; I’m going to hate this: it’s written by two people; it’s in the form of letters; and World War Two has been done to death. I was wrong on all counts about The Guernsey Literary And Potato Peel Pie Society (Dial, $22), by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows.  During the Second World War, the Channel Islands were occupied by the Nazis. Shaffer, who wrote most of the book before she became critically ill, imagines that Juliet Ashton, a sophisticated London editor, received a letter from Dawsey Adams, a Literary Society member who found Ashton’s name written on the flyleaf of a book of Charles Lamb’s essays. After Dawsey invited her to visit Guernsey, Juliet’s life was irrevocably changed by the quiet heroism she discovered among the citizens of that island. It’s a charming homage to the power of literature.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society: A Novel By Mary Ann Shaffer, Annie Barrows Cover Image
ISBN: 9780385340991
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Published: The Dial Press - July 29th, 2008

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society: A Novel By Mary Ann Shaffer, Annie Barrows Cover Image
ISBN: 9780385341004
Availability: In Stock—Click for Locations
Published: Dial Press Trade Paperback - May 5th, 2009

Exiles - Ron Hansen

Ron Hansen’s beautiful and sad Exiles (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $23) is a fictional account of two historically-based stories: the Jesuit priest Gerard Manley Hopkins’s effort to discipline his creative spirit and live a more obedient life, and a shipwreck that occurred off the coast of England in 1875. Most of the Deutschland’s passengers and crew were finally saved, but 64 died, among them five Franciscan nuns on their way to America. Hopkins had been a brilliant student at Oxford; influenced by Cardinal Newman, he converted to Catholicism and became a priest. In order to conform to the demands of his superiors, he gave up writing poetry, but the shipwreck loosened something in him. Hopkins was so moved by the victims’ deaths that he wrote a long poem (included in the back of the book). His poetry was not recognized while he was alive and only became appreciated decades after his death, when it was rediscovered by Virginia Woolf and the modernists.

My favorites of Ron Hansen’s novels are about the challenges of faith. (Mariette in Ecstasy is another.) The Exiles (Picador, $14) of the title are the great British poet Gerard Manley Hopkins, banished to Ireland, and five Franciscan nuns who were sent to America to work. Hopkins, from a well-off family, was a university student at Oxford when he converted to Catholicism. A brilliant and original mind, he was out of step with the demands of strict obedience. For a long time he gave up poetry, but an 1875 freak shipwreck on the Thames that killed 44 passengers, including five nuns from Germany, loosened something in him and he wrote a long poem in honor of the lost sisters (included in the book). Two years later he wrote “a clutch of poems that were so original and are now so esteemed.” This arresting book is about the creative spirit that disturbs ordinary men.

Exiles: A Novel By Ron Hansen Cover Image
ISBN: 9780312428341
Availability: Not On Our Shelves—Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Picador - June 23rd, 2009

Friendly Fire: A Duet - Abraham B. Yehoshua

Nobody writes about the unique intimacy of a loving marriage the way the Israeli writer A. B. Yehoshua does. Maybe the subject works in his fiction because sweet domesticity is less cloying against a backdrop of history rife with life-and-death events. In Friendly Fire (Harcourt, $26), Daniella has left her loving husband Amotz at home in Israel while she visits her brother-in-law Yirmiyahu to mourn her sister’s death. Yirmi is acting as the financial manager for an all-African anthropological team in northern Tanzania. The book alternates between Daniella in Africa and Amotz, who deals with his octogenarian father and the grandchildren. “Friendly fire” is what killed her sister’s son, and Yehoshua probes the sorrow of the incident and the corrosive effect it had on the parents’ marriage. Perhaps “friendly fire” also refers to the Hanukkah candles, since the action takes place during the eight days of Hanukkah.

Friendly Fire: A Duet By A.B. Yehoshua Cover Image
ISBN: 9780547247854
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Published: HarperVia - November 11th, 2009