Posted by: billpurdue | February 12, 2009

42 Potato Peel Pie and other Confections

Some months ago I requested a book from Nottinghamshire Libraries and the other week they finally came up with it. To give them their due, they don’t normally take months to obtain requested items in my experience – far from it. The book was The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Schaffer [Bloomsbury £10.99 9781408800485 ] . I should also point out that in later editions of the book (my copy was the original hardback), an additional author is given: Annie Burrows.

guernsey-literaryIt’s the year after the end of the Second World War and Juliet Ashton, living in London, a city still terribly scarred by war damage, is having a great time attending signing sessions for her very successful new book. Looking for inspiration for her next book, out of the blue she receives a letter from a certain Dawsey Adams in Guernsey and they begin a correspondence which will much later on lead to…well you’ll find out if you read the book. It turns out that Mr Adams is a member of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society which began as a clever invention, when the occupying Germans wanted to know why a group of people were at a party after the curfew hour. Tragically the woman who thought up the name on the spur of the moment to fool the Germans was eventually taken away to a concentration camp.

Juliet becomes interested in how their mutual love of reading sustained this group of people   throughout the years when the island was occupied and receives many letters from other members of the society. It seems inevitable that she will eventually visit Guernsey and decide to stay, but I will say no more about the plot. I wholeheartedly recommend the book – provided, that is, that you are not put off by a novel in the form of letters between the various characters. This sort of writing style doesn’t always work, but I think it does in this case – and very well too.

What I didn’t know at the time I began reading was that it was the BBC Radio 4 Book at Bedtime during the same fortnight. On reflection I think I’m glad I wasn’t aware of that – I would prefer to read the book itself instead of listen to someone reading it. Click here for a review of the current Book at Bedtime.

Sadly Mary Ann Schaffer died last year, so we can’t look forward to more of the same.

Late developer

harry-bernstein1Harry Bernstein began writing after the death of his wife in 2002, when he was already in his nineties. His first book The Invisible Wall [Arrow £7.99 9780099504283 ] is about his early childhood growing up in Lancashire, raised as an orthodox Jew in a street divided by religion. His father spent too much on drink and his mother dreamed of a better life. In 2008 his second book was published to critical acclaim: The Dream [Arrow £7.99 9780099517863] which covers the years when the family emigrated to America and struggled to find a new life in Chicago at the time of the Depression.

Celebrating Darwin

darwinIt ‘s not surprising that several books have been published  to coincide with the 200th Anniversary of Darwin‘s birth. Here are three “tie-ins”, all published in the last couple of weeks: Darwin‘s Sacred Cause: Race, Slavery and the Quest for Human Origins [Allen Lane £25 9781846140358] is by Adrian Desmond and James Moore who are world authorities on Darwin. Through extensive research – evidenced by the lengthy section of references at the end of the book – they try to show Darwin’s core belief in human racial unity and his commitment to the abolition of slavery.

Why Us? by James Le Fanu [Harper Press £18.99 9780007120277] expresses doubts about the validity of Darwin’s theories, whilst Your Inner Fish The Amazing Discovery of Our 375-Million-Year-Old Ancestor by Neil Shubin [Penguin £9.99 978-0141027586 ]  tries to show how different parts of the human body have evolved from our ocean dwelling ancestors (but that’s a mass oversimplification – it’s had rave reviews)

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