The Dog Doesn’t Die

Book reviews & random thoughts

Does the Dog Die? A Brief Review of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

Recommended for my book group and long on my reading list, this book was quite enjoyable even though it had a few elements of those insufferably twee British novels that are over-stuffed with eccentrics behaving cutely. Yes, there were eccentrics behaving cutely. But I sensed a moderating hand — thanks, moderating hand! — and in the end, the book was more what I’d call “easily accessible historical fiction” than anything else. I guess that means it’s also a beach book. Well, it’s out in paperback now and it’s beach season, so have at it! In other words, yes, I’m recommending this book.

“Guernsey” is told through a series of letters to or from writer Juliet Ashton, a young woman seeking purpose in post-WWII London. And many of Juliet’s correspondents are from Guernsey, one of the Channel Islands. The Nazis captured and occupied the Channel Islands, but not until after many of the children were sent to other parts of England. What followed were complex interactions among the locals and the Nazis, struggles to survive in the face of blockades by both sides of the war, and the ethical dilemmas that resulted. This is where the twee dies in the face of the poignant. Before Churchill relented and allowed Red Cross ships to provide crucial supplies, the islands were denuded of trees in order to provide fuel, the residents and occupiers nearly starved, and most of the pets were euthanized (and farm animals killed for meat) in order to preserve resources that the people needed. The authors give a strong sense of courage in a desperate situation, but the book stays about as light as is possible given the circumstances. And in the end, twee rises to live again and everyone who’s still around goes on to live happily ever after, or something like that. Please don’t be put off by my cynical tone — I loved this book, I thoroughly enjoyed reading it, and I give it my highest recommendation. I just thought the occasional twee moments were kind of odd.

As for animals, I already mentioned that most of the pets had to be put down in order to keep them from eating food the already-starving people needed to survive. Each family was allowed to keep one, but no more. Exceptions existed for egg-laying poultry and, in the book, birds were better off than other species. For example, intrepid parrot Zenobia captures a villain.

But the mass euthanasia breaks my heart. It would be a terrible situation for a pet owner, and yet from a logical standpoint, it had to be done. War is violent, and animals do not receive a special dispensation even though they are innocent bystanders. There is also a sad moment where the “pig whisperer” kills the last one after having scratched its back in a friendly way. Feral cats and dogs fared no better. And there are a couple of other mentions of harm coming to specific animals.

After much thought, I am going to declare this book MOSTLY SAFE for animal lovers. The actions against animals are much more told than described, and you’ll know from reading this review if the mass euthanasia would be too much for you. It’s important to remember the consequences of war, I think, and this was one of them. Otherwise, the book is a delight, and most people will enjoy it.

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May 30, 2009 - Posted by | animals, beach book, Book Reviews, historical fiction, pets | , , , , , , ,

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