During World War II, the island of Guernsey in the English channel was occupied for five full years by the Nazis as they used the tiny island for storage and living quarters. As the war dragged on and the Germans were slowly being beaten back in the rest of the world, conditions on the island became first difficult, then unbearable, and in some ways it has never fully recovered. Children were evacuated for their safety, many never to return following the chaos and devastation of the war’s end. As provisions became scarce, then non-existent, soldiers and islanders alike resorted to acts they arguably never would have under normal circumstances. In many ways it is a war story like many others – yet it is so very much, much more. At some point during the occupation, a small group of islanders found themselves thrown together hastily and unexpectedly, and in the most unlikely combinations - simple farming men, servants, and a few proper yet feisty older ladies (one with very
strong opinions about the Bronte sisters) – and forming, quite unintentionally, a reading club. The circumstances as to how and why that came about I’ll leave unsaid, since it’s part of the delight of the novel. The reading club, however, is how the islanders of Guernsey come to communicate with Juliet Ashton, a Londoner who has never been anywhere near the channel islands but becomes immediately enchanted and deeply affected by these unassuming people who had endured so much pain and hardship with strength, will and an amazing sense of humor.
The magic of this book is its almost deceptive charm, particularly at the outset, and as the story slowly emerges the reader is taken along a journey that is emotional without being melancholy, and inspirational without being even remotely trite. Above all it is the story of a darkness somehow lit from within, and I know no other way to describe it. I was so moved and enthralled by it from the very beginning that I literally could not put it down. I attended a baseball game with my husband and sat there reading as the innings passed me by. I laughed out loud a lot of the time, and shook my head in disbelief and anger at other times, but mostly I just smiled and ardently wished I could meet each and every one of these people.
If you pick up no other book this year, grab this one. You will not regret it.