Monday, August 11, 2008


I hope it won't upset my brother, but I'm about to give up on the book he was good enough to send me, Broccoli and Other Tales of Love and Food. It's not about love and food--it's about non-love and strange memories of food. In one story, a man goes to see a woman for "servicing," is unable to perform, and ends up eating borscht with her. In another, a lover asks a Russian woman to recount her first sexual encounter and she does but then is overcome with remorse and remembers other incidents of her childhood in Russia--like what a treat puffed rice was and how a teacher used to give the narrator's leftover meatballs to the teacher's children. It's still a beautifully designed book, and I'll treasure it for that--and because John thought it would fit me.
On the other hand I am reading a book I really recommend, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. I read somewhere that Mary Ann Shaffer, who died before publication, spent 24 hours in Guernsey in difficult circumstances (I can't remember the story) and decided to write a novel about the Nazi occupation of the channel islands. Her niece, novelist Annie Barrows, helped her get it in shape for publication.
I knew, vaguely, in the back of my mind, that the Nazi's had occupied Guernsey--I think I even read another novel about it. But this book gives you a very human history lesson about how the people of the island were affected--it was pretty awful. It brought out the best in most islanders but the worst in a few. This is an epistolary novel, chronicling correspondence between a London jouranlist, writing a story abut the society, and society members--until she decides to go to Guernsey to visit. I would say its charming and quiet reading but its really not--it's about island customs and the rural life and loyalty but it's also about Nazi bullying and rudeness--and occasional kindnesses. Complex, and I'm not doing a good job of describing it. Try it for yourself. It's enough to make me think maybe I should go to Guernsey insead of Scotland--well, not really.
Potato peel pie? Well, with everything scarce, one of the men made a pie of mashed potatoes, with beets to sweeten it and potato peels for a crust. The Guernsey lady who described it said it was really good--hard to believe!

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