Wednesday, February 22, 2012

REVIEW: The Baker's Daughter, by Sarah McCoy

The Baker's Daughter, by Sarah McCoy. Published 2012 by Crown. Fiction.

If you read and enjoyed Sarah's Key and/or The Book Thief, you will find yourself on very familiar ground with Sarah McCoy's second novel, The Baker's Daughter. Set alternately in World War 2-era Germany and present-day El Paso, The Baker's Daughter tells the story of two women and their search for love and independence and happiness.

In the past-tense story, teenage Elsie Schmidt, the daughter of a baker, is a loyal German engaged to Josef, an older Nazi officer she hardly loves. But her family needs the engagement for the family's protection; in the Germany of the Nazi era, loyalty to the Reich is everything and even the appearance that one is questions the Reich is enough to bring an entire family under suspicion. Josef can shield them from scrutiny, but Elsie does start to question the Reich, and she has a secret.

In the present-tense, Reba is a reporter engaged to Riki, a border agent; she's interviewing Jane, Elsie's daughter and the proprietress of her own German bakery, about German Christmas customs. Along the way she hears Elsie's incredible story. Reba's relationship with Riki is troubled and uncertain; she wears his engagement ring on a chain around her neck but won't commit to marriage- yet. Then, she receives a great job offer at a paper in San Francisco. It's a big career move, but will that city's organic-food restaurants and wine country feel like home the way Texas does? In the mean time, Elsie takes ill and Jane makes a surprise decision.

The Baker's Daughter is going to be a natural choice for book clubs. Elsie and Reba both find themselves at difficult crossroads at different points in the novel and each must make heartbreaking choices. McCoy raises questions about loyalty and rebellion and brings in the issue of immigration alongside the Nazi persecution of the Jews, bringing up lots of ideas ripe for discussion. She's also written a very solid, enjoyable novel about two fresh and interesting women. I wasn't crazy about the past-present structure of Sarah's Key but I think McCoy does a really good job of investing both stories with urgency and feeling. She certainly kept me turning the pages!  I'd recommend The Baker's Daughter to readers looking for an engaging page-turner with winning characters at its center and lots to talk about to boot.

And there are even recipes at the back of the book! Yum!


FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from the author.