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Going to Guernsey with Annie Barrows

September 8, 2008 |  8:48 am

GuernseybookThe story behind "The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society" -- currently #2 on our hardcover bestseller list -- is both sad and happy.

The book was begun by Mary Ann Shaffer, who worked in libraries as an editor and raised a family before settling down to write the novel. She was in her seventh decade when she sold the book -- an epistolary novel set in Guernsey during and after the German occupation of WWII -- to The Dial Press. The editing process had just begun when she was diagnosed with cancer. She didn't make it to see the book's publication.

But the publication -- and the book's success -- is a happy thing, as is how the book got to shelves. Annie Barrows, Shaffer's niece and a children's book author, collaborated with her aunt and then, after she was gone, completed the book.

It was Shaffer who'd been to Guernsey, getting the seed of the idea for the novel when she spent the night in a cold airport there in 1976. Barrows, who lives in the Bay Area, hadn't -- until recently. She talked to the San Francisco Chronicle about her experience seeing the island for the first time.

"Is everything I'd made up going to be true?" she wondered. The boat swung around, and there it was."The old fortress hove into view," she recalled, "and I saw the city rising, exactly as it was supposed to, in terraced layers....  "It was everything I had hoped it would be, not only in order to be correct but in order to love it."

An excerpt of the book is available on NPR.org. The book trailer is after the jump.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

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