Book Review: The Baker’s Daughter by Sarah McCoy

29 Mar

Genre: Historical fiction

Publisher: Crown Publishing

Pub date: 24 Jan 2012

Source: Publisher via NetGalley

Synopsis

Reba Williams has been tasked with hunting down a feel-good Christmas article about the local German bakery. She expects it to be an easy assignment, with the interview lasting a couple of hours. But Elsie, the owner of the German Bakery is not easy to interview. Instead of answering Reba’s questions, she keeps asking Reba about herself.
Parallel to this story in present day El Paso we also hear the story of Elsie Schmidt when she was 16 years old during the waning days of the Nazi empire. And while this assignment is just another day for Reba, it is a reminder of some of the worst times of her life for Elsie. As they become friends, all of them have to confront their pasts and presents and forgive.

Review

The Baker’s Daughter deals with themes of persecution and exclusion based of ethnicity. WWII was of course when this was taken to its darkest extreme. But even today, the border patrols in El Paso are tasked with keeping people out. Not the that two can really the same, but there are similarities.

WWII novels tend to run together and I don’t instantly love all of them, but The Baker’s Daughter has the kind of characters and moral dilemmas that made this an engrossing and touching read. Elsie’s family own a bakery have managed to survive the war by providing bread for the Nazi Party. Their older daughter Hazel also joined the party and was part of the Lebensborn program (something I didn’t know about before). It’s partly through letters from her that we see how regular people who started off supporting the Nazi program slowly came to realise what was happening and changed their minds about it. But they had no choice but to continue the support so that their families could be safe. Elsie at this time is a naïve teenager, but soon begins to understand more of what is happening around her.

In the current day story Reba is dealing with her own demons. Her engagement to Riki is shaky and she finds it hard to let down her guard and be honest about her fears. When she walks into Elsie’s bakery in El Paso, her life slowly starts to change and she finds the courage to forgive and move on. There are similarities between the lives of the two women, and Reba’s unexpected friendship with Elsie and her daughter Jane helps her come to terms with her life and choices.

This is a bittersweet story and brought tears to my eyes as I was reading it. Sarah McCoy has not only told us a story about the world war but has done it so subtly and with such an understanding of the human spirit that it’s impossible not to love the people and get completely immersed in their lives.

It’s impossible to talk about this story and not mention the food. The descriptions of the delicious breads, pastries and other baked goods are mouth-watering. And if you want to try your hand at making some of these dishes, there are recipes at the end of the book.

Verdict

Highly recommended. Story with depth and emotion – wonderfully warm characters and hope. This is one of my favourite reads of the year.

Rating: 5*

*See my Rating policy

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