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10th January 2010

A book and a movie

posted in Books |

Coincidentally, I just read a book and saw a movie about the German occupation of the Channel Islands during World War II. Today, the islands, which are only about 8 miles from France, are littered with German bunkers and fortifications leftover from the war, but I, for one, never realized that the Germans had set foot on British soil. After Dunkirk, the British withdrew their soldiers from the islands which were promptly bombed and occupied by the Germans as a first step toward invading England. Hitler boasted that he was “wiping his feet on the doormat of England.” The occupation was harsh, including deportations, executions and concentration camps and lasted from 1940-1945. It makes for an interesting story and a chilling preview of what might have been if the Nazis had prevailed. A new novel, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, purports to tell the story through a series of letters from islanders to a London author in the days after the war. Telling a story through letters is a bit outmoded, but is one way to spread the author’s point-of-view across many narrators. Unfortunately, it is hard to make all the voices believable and the first-person once-removed method tends to muffle the action. There is a plot in there, that of Elizabeth and the German commandant, but it’s hard to get at. The true horror of the occupation doesn’t quite resonate over the relentlessly quaint characters who are telling the story. Still, it’s enjoyable enough even if you get the feeling afterward as if you ate too much cake. As an antidote and a filling-out of the tale, see Island at War, a gripping story of a fictionalized channel island during the early days of the occupation. This 3-disc series from PBS’ Masterpiece Theatre gives us complex characters and situations. The tensions of the occupation become exacerbated over time as the Germans crack down on dissent and as characters react to fear and deprivation. The island setting adds a claustrophobic feeling, and even though we know the eventual outcome of the war, there is plenty of suspense as to the fate of the individuals. The ending is somewhat abrupt, leaving many questions unanswered, but the larger lesson seems to be that war is like that. We don’t get to care about one or two people when so many are dying elsewhere. If Zelda is captured and deported, she will be one of six million; if Phil is shot, he will also be one of millions; if the islanders starve or act ignobly or are executed, the same thing is happening all over Europe. War really is hell and the microcosm of the island gives us a riveting window on its senseless savagery.

There are currently 4 responses to “A book and a movie”

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  1. 1 On January 10th, 2010, C R Krieger said:

    Nice post, Margaret.  And true to life.  It is a little known aspect of the war.

    Regards  —  Cliff

  2. 2 On January 13th, 2010, Margaret said:

    Thanks, Cliff. I heard that the islands are becoming a popular tourist destination because of the book. One article talked about what all the people are doing with their bomb shelters – making them into wine cellars, etc.

  3. 3 On January 14th, 2010, Mimi said:

    Thanks Margaret. I read the book also (book group selection) and liked it. Now I will seek the Masterpiece Theater videos to watch. I appreciate the tip.

  4. 4 On January 18th, 2010, Margaret said:

    It seems to be a popular book group choice – what else is your group reading?

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