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Courier Article by Kate Linderman
Sunday, August 21, 2011

One Book selection tells tale of English Channel isle's occupation

2011 marks the 10th anniversary of One Book One Community of Southwestern Indiana.

This year's selection is "The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society" by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. It is a remarkable epistolary novel (a novel of letters) describing the occupation of Guernsey, (one of the Channel Islands, located in the English Channel between Great Britain and France) and the literary society that starts out as a ruse to throw off German soldiers but grows into a real literary club that spawns life-changing friendships.

The characters come alive in the novel through the letters and descriptions of their (in some cases, unexpected) love of books and the impact the written word has on their ability to survive the war.

Mary Ann Shaffer, the book's author, became interested in the Channel Islands on a visit to London in 1976. Years later, she began writing what would become "The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society."

As her health declined, she asked her niece, Annie Barrows, a writer of children's fiction, to help her finish the novel. Shaffer died in 2008, just prior to the book's publication.

Barrows will visit Evansville to discuss the book as part of the One Book One Community celebration. She will speak at The Victory at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 16, The event is free and open to the public.

In the meantime, if you'd like to learn more about World War II, Evansville Vanderburgh Public Library some other excellent reads that deal with the intricacies of the war.

"Tamar" by Mal Peet is an excellent book about the final year of the German occupation of the Netherlands, and of the fragmented Dutch Resistance. Tamar is a 15-year-old British girl who inherits a box of secrets and coded messages from her recently deceased grandfather, who served as a radio operator in World War II. The contents of the box unravel secrets that have been kept for almost 50 years, and what Tamar finds in the box will change her - and her family - forever.

This book captivated me from the first few pages. It's a story of espionage, survival, betrayal, love and loss - and it's touching and well-written. I had a hard time putting it down.

"Maus" by Art Spiegelman is a biography in graphic novel form, in two volumes. It tells of Spiegelman's father's experiences in a concentration camp (Auschwitz) during World War II.

"Maus "is unique in its depiction of animals as the principal characters -Jews are depicted as mice, Germans as cats, and other nationalities are depicted as various other animals. This book won a Pulitzer Prize special award in 1992 and is a jarring and alarmingly real depiction of the various horrors inflicted by the Nazis.

"Lost in Shangri-La" by Mitchell Zuckoff is a nonfiction book about the rescue of three survivors of a plane crash in New Guinea in May, 1945. What was to be a three-hour sightseeing trip via airplane for 24 people turned horribly wrong when the plane crashed, and only three people survived.

The book outlines the harrowing details of the survivors' race to find their way to their rescuers while being gravely injured and pursued by native tribesmen who had never seen white people before and believed them to be "dangerous spirits."