There seems to be a lot of anticipation about to soon to be released novelThe Baker’s Daughter and I can understand why. Split between past and present, Nazi Germany in the last year of World War II and present day El Paso, Texas, it is the story of two very different women and how they each find themselves.
Elsie Schmidt,16, is the second daughter of bakers in Garmisch, Germany. Her older sister, Hazel, has been in the Lebensborn Program to produce strong, racially pure babies for the Fatherland since her fiancee was killed. Their young son Julius is also there being educated in Nazi dogma.
The Schmidt’s have always been supporters of Hitler and his policies, and when Lieutenant Colonel Josef Hub, a family friend since Peter’s death, invites Elsie to the Nazis Weihnachten (Christmas) party, they are thrilled. At the party, Joseph asks Elsie to marry him, giving her a ring that has a Hebrew in it. Elsie doesn’t know what to do - on the one hand, he provides the bakery with supplies and the family with protection, on the other hand, he is much older and she doesn’t want to marry him.
At the same party, a young Jewish boy with a breath-takingly beautiful voice is brought in to entertain. Elsie later learns he will be killed as soon as he is taken back to the concentration camp he was in. When a General Kremer attacks Else is an alley she escaped to for some air, it is the boys voice that save her. Later that night, when the boy shows up at the back door of the bakery, their lives are changed forever.
Years later, in 2007,Reba Adams, a journalist, is trying to get in touch with the now elderly Elsie Schmidt to do an article on Christmas traditions around the world. She wants to talk to Elsie about German traditions. But her interviews turn out the be very different from what Reba had expected. And again lives are changed.
The Baker’s Daughter is about the journey two women must make in order to find their true selves. And even though the time and facts of their individual journeys are different, the outcomes are very much the same.
There is a very diverse cast of characters in this novel, some nice, some not, but all very relevant in the lives of Elsie and Reba. I felt more connected to Elsie’s story and found it much more compelling than Reba’s story. I believe that is because we are give more details about her life and follow it from 1944 to the present, whereas we learn about Reba’s past mainly from her thoughts and they are not as thoroughly explored. I also found myself more drawn to Elsie than I did to Reba and maybe that is why.
Don’t get me wrong, however. I really enjoyed reading The Baker’s Daughter, and found it hard to put down. I found it to be a well researched story and it does bring out a disturbing aspect of the Lebensborn Program that many people may not know about.
A bonus: at the end of the novel, there is a collection of recipes to bake that are mentioned throughout the story, some from Elsie’s families bakery in Germany, so new ones from life in El Paso, and all, I am sure, scrumptious.
This book is recommended for readers age 15 and up.
This book was received as an E-ARC from Netgalley.com
You can find a reading group guide for The Baker’s Daughter at Sarah McCoy
The Baker’s Daughter
January 24, 2012