Tuesday, 17 January 2012

The Baker's Daughter by Sarah McCoy


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.

19 comments:

  1. I would've expected this to be on the cozy side as well, but I'm glad it was more hard hitting than that. This seems like a book I'd really enjoy.

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    1. It's a good example of well written historical fiction, although I would have liked to learn more about the Lebensborn program.

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  2. I absolutely love Sarah and cannot wait to read this one. It sounds like it is vastly different from The Time It Snowed in Puerto Rico.

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    1. This is my first McCoy book but I would be interesting in reading Puerto Rico. How is it different?

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  3. A new author for me - I hope I can find one of the books.

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    1. It's well worth keeping a look at for this one :)

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  4. God I need glasses - I glanced at the title and saw it as 'The Baker's Doughnut.' I was all "But surely all bakers have doughnuts... what's so special about that?" But now I see that while they mostly have doughnuts, they may not have DAUGHTERS, which is what makes it special :)

    Sorry.

    I'd never heard of this before, but it sounds amazing. I love WWII historical fiction and this sounds right up my alley.

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    1. 'The Baker's Doughnut' might have turned out to be quite a different story! I wouldn't object to a story about doughnuts though, I love them ..

      If you like WWII historical fiction, you will love this one.

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  5. This sounds like a wonderful read! I overlooked this one, and now regret it. Thanks for the review.

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    1. Hope you get a chance to read it, Jennifer.

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  6. This is going on my wishlist. Thanks for the review.

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  7. I'm a big fan of historical fiction, and particularly books set in the two world wars. I'm glad to hear this one is good -- one more to add to my list.

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    1. The wars are not my favourite setting but I really enjoyed this, so I am sure you would love it!

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  8. What a great review! I agree with you on every point! But I must be honest that this book was the first time, that I remember, of hearing about the Lebensborn program and it absolutely horrified me. Those poor women and children. - Once again, great review!

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    1. I hadn't heard of it either and I looked it up on the internet after finishing the book. It's horrific, isn't it?

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  9. I've been reading more historical fiction about the WWII era these past couple of years and I keep learning new awful things. This story sounds like another good one to add to the list.

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  10. I must add this to the wishlist although I sort of overdosed on WWII fiction last year and have been limiting myself this year. Her Puerto Rico title looks intriguing too.

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  11. I usually don't like reading about wars but the whole "looking back" angle is something I enjoy and this book sounds intriguing enough to add to the reminder list. I've never heard about this terrible program but even just reading about it here it struck me as ironic that the child of people who're supposed to be perfect was born with a disability. I bet those frankensteinian scientists weren't planning on seeing that happen!

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