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“This is not a story to pass on.” So concludes the freed black community after its brush with the preternatural, as found in Toni Morrison’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel Beloved (1984).

Five years in its composition, the author dives deep for pungent images to express the inexpressible horrors of southern slavery and its afterimage during the Reconstruction, these anecdotes honed from her grandparents’ and parents’ experiences. Through Morrison’s artistry, her characters, no longer silenced, speak.

The setting for this novel is 124 Bluestone Road, on the outskirts of Cincinnati, Ohio. Within this two-story hovel live the protagonist Sethe, her eighteen-year-old Denver, and Beloved, the poltergeist of Sethe’s second daughter. The time is 1873. The narrative follows a circuitous route, with frequent insertions of backstory: Sweet Home, a small plantation in Kentucky where Sethe and five slaves tend the needs of the Garnets, a childless couple; Sethe’s “marriage” to Halle and their begetting four children; schoolteacher’s torture meted out to all the slaves, some escaping, others killed or rendered witless.

At the center of this circuitous route is lodged Sethe’s unspeakable crime that shimmies, beyond all telling. It takes forever to get there: the journey bristles with tension. Indeed, her poetic language crisps the soles of feet, squinches sensibilities, and fuels outrage.

“Love is or it ain’t. Thin love is not love at all,” Sethe tells Paul D, an aging Sweet Home former slave. From her perspective, her crime takes on a different hue—countering Evil and provoking questions that itch, badly, in the night.

 

 

 

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Are you looking for an intriguiung read for the New Year?  A novel to gladden your heart? Such is The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (2007), co-authored by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows.

 

The engaging plot evolves through an exchange of letters between the protagonist, Juliet Ashton, a British author and survivor of World War II and another community of survivors on Guernsey, one of the Channel Islands, occupied by the Nazis from 1940 to 1945. One of the islanders, a pig farmer and mason, queries Juliet on the availability of second-hand copies of Charles Lamb, his favorite author, as bookstores in Guernsey were still depleted. A lively correspondence ensues. Reading in between the lines, Juliet senses an unusual story of heroism, enlarged by additional letters sent from other members of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, a story that compels her to take the mail boat across the Channel and meet them. Little does she know that her entire life will change.

 

Correspondence between Juliet and her London publisher involves him in her new world, now taking written form through stories shared by these simple folks and though her exploration of this island and its history. From the outset, its beauty stirs her imagination. Here, she can breathe and laugh. Healing of war-torn spirits emerges and new relationships are formed.

 

Although The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is a novel, still it evidences the art of letter writing with spirit-exchanges, unfortunately rarely practiced today.

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