The Baker’s Daughter by Sarah McCoy
Published by: Crown
Published on: January 24, 2012
Page Count: 304
Genre: Fiction / Historical Fiction
My Reading Format: eBook purchased for my Kindle – I’ll be buying my Hardcover copy on 02.24.2012 when Sarah McCoy will be at Fountain Bookstore in Richmond.
Available Formats: Hardcover and eBook
Reba has been given the assignment to interview the owner of a local bakery about the Christmas traditions her family celebrated while she was growing up in Germany. This interview proves to be more difficult to come by than originally anticipated. When Elsie doesn’t return her phone calls, Reba goes to the bakery in person to get the interview. She is surprised to discover it is impossible for her to keep a professional distance. Not only do Elsie and her daughter pick up on personal difficulties Reba likes to think she’s kept hidden, Elsie’s experiences of Christmas are tarnished by WWII. What began as a simple quest for a human interest article forces both Reba and Elsie to confront the past and move forward into the future.
I liked this book right from the very beginning. Elsie’s story in Germany during her youth caught my attention. It’s outside of my reading experience to get introduced to a young woman excited to go to a Nazi party. Yet most certainly there were very many young women just like that. Watching her opinions change based on her experiences was more than interesting. In between episodes of her early life, we learn more about Reba and Elsie’s life in America. Reba’s past struck a chord with me. As someone who has lost a family member to suicide, we were instant friends. My uncle and Reba’s father had striking similarities. All that Reba felt and how she reacted to the memories was authentic and real. It brought to mind and to heart all that happened 20 years ago to my family.
When a novel takes place during a time of war, it is expected that there will be commentary about the nature of war and its affects on society and family. Sarah McCoy did this beautifully and without judgement. As much as movies and culture would like to paint any war as the good guys against the bad guys, not everyone backing the losing side is evil. Elsie’s family was a proud German family. That they started the war backing the Nazi party does not make them evil. Especially in times without the overwhelming presence of news and governmental oversight, the reality of what their government was doing dawned on them slowly. Just as hearing about the atrocities that went on are hard to stomach for those not involved, how much more difficult must that knowledge be for those who trusted their leaders? The way that McCoy told the story of Elsie’s family was honest, yet loving. They had to learn to live with the reality of what took place in a way the rest of us will never understand.
What I hadn’t been expecting about The Baker’s Daughter was the astute social commentary about the United States’ immigration policyh. With just as much compassion, McCoy shines a light on the similarities between trying to exterminate people from within and forcibly keeping others out. She did so by interlacing the stories of Elsie’s Nazi fiance and Reba’s fiance Riki. By telling their story side by side, she allows the readers to draw their own conclusions about what is happening. She points out that the folly of letting the law to do your thinking for you is still alive and well today.
The Baker’s Daughter was the perfect read for me. On top of telling a wonderful story, it connected me to my past and gave me pause to think about current social issues and the hurts I’ve been holding on to for far too long. I was in this novel the entire way through. The ending was bittersweet and brought tears to my eyes several times over. I reflected on how much there is in this life that can separate us from those we love. Those things that separate us may seem very important at the time, but in the end it is the love and the closeness that is most precious. That is why forgiveness is such a gift. Perhaps it is the capacity to be merciful more than anything else that makes us human, that makes being human worthwhile. Pick up The Baker’s Daughter. Read it for the stories Sarah McCoy has crafted. Then, pick up the phone and call those you love. Forgive and be forgiven. It feels better than you know.