“The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society” and “Skeletons at the Feast”: two must-read recent novels on World War II

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
Skeletons at the Feast, Chris Bohjalian

I stumbled (luckily) on both these novels recently, realizing only after the fact that they are both set in World War II. As I started each of them, I thought perhaps I didn’t need to read another book about  WWII-I have certainly read many, both fiction and non-fiction, and I think I have taken most of the lessons to be had from those dreadful years. Wrong! These are two wonderful novels that belong on your “To Read” list–and I’m glad I happened on them.

The first, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, is funny and charming. It captures the rather old-fashion but delightful flavor of English novels of the time, as well as focusing on the little-discussed Nazi occupation of Guernsey during the War. An epistolary novel, well-written, it is chock full of delightful characters and gives a vivid sense of both London and Guernsey. This one has gotten quite a bit of attention and good reviews-and deservedly so.

Skeletons at the Feast is a more serious and harrowing story based on a diary Bohjalian read. The novel traces the flight of an aristocratic Prussian farm family from their home to escape the Russian troops. Parallel stories follow a young Jewish man on the run in the countryside and a group of young Jewish women in a work camp. I found the characters well-developed, unexpected, and engaging and the plot roars along without pause. The conclusion is a bit trite, but overall the book is very well-realized.

I am awed by these writers’ ability to trace yet new threads of the WWII and the Holocaust in fresh ways. Whether you like historical novels or just good quality fiction, these are worth your while.