It's 1945 in Germany and teenager Elsie Schmidt is keeping out of trouble by helping out at her family's bakery and dating SS officer Josef Hub. But her first experience of a Nazi party is not all that she thought it would be and it's only the presence of a captive Jewish boy that saves her from a horrific experience. When that same boy turns up on her doorstep later, she feels she has no choice but to help him in any way that she can. Sixty years later, Elsie is running a German bakery in El Paso, Texas, and journalist Reba Adams arrives looking for an easy festive story. But Elsie's life is anything but and Reba is soon drawn in by her tale enough to start questioning her own life and values.
The Baker's Daughter took me by surprise. Quite simply, I was not expecting it to be as hard-hitting as it was. I was anticipating a somewhat cosy read but instead The Baker's Daughter confronts some harrowing issues head on. The story of Elsie's life is captivating and McCoy writes her with such depth that as the reader, you are soon rooting for her. There's also an interesting side plot about the Lebensborn Program, where unmarried 'racially pure' German girls were basically prostituted out to SS officers to repopulate the Reich. Elsie's sister Hazel is selected for the program and some of the letters she writes home about her life there and the disabled son she gives birth to are very powerful.
As with any dual-narrative story, one of the narratives was stronger and in this case it was Elsie's story that dominated. Just under half of the story is devoted to the present day and Reba's struggle to come to terms with her own family history and relationships. I felt that this part of the story was weaker and could have been made a bit more concise. Reba just wasn't a fascinating character in the way that Elsie was. I found Reba's boyfriend Riki and his role in deporting illegal Mexican immigrants (and the parallels to Elsie's life) more compelling than Reba herself.
The Baker's Daughter spans a lot of time and in this case I was glad of that as I appreciated the closure on certain issues raised in the book and I wanted to find out what happened to some of the characters. Even so, the ending section was quite winding and the book did lose a bit of steam towards the end. Despite this, The Baker's Daughter was a book that made me think long after I closed it each night and it drew me completely in. I would highly recommend it to anyone interested in historical fiction.
Source: From the publisher via NetGalley.
Score: 4 out of 5
The Baker's Daughter is published on the 24th January 2012.