Reba Adams is working as a journalist in El Paso, Texas. Running as far as she can from her troubled family back on the east coast, Reba wants nothing more than to make it as a journalist in a big city, and El Paso is just a stop on her way to the top. The trouble is, rather than getting juicy assignments, she’s stuck writing fluff pieces for a local magazine. Even more troubling is that she has a fiancé, a Border Patrol agent named Riki Chavez, from whom she’s been growing further apart ever since their engagement.
Reba’s latest assignment: feel-good Christmas stories, which brings her to Elsie’s German Bakery. She just needs to get a few good quotes about German Christmas traditions, but the elderly owner is elusive; whenever they sit down for an interview, Elsie gives vague answers or strays off topic. Elsie’s energetic middle-aged daughter, Jane, is no easier–every time they sit down to chat, Jane ends up getting Reba to talk more about herself than about German Christmas traditions. But after Reba is finished with her story, she can’t help but keep going back to the bakery; she, Jane, and Elsie are fast becoming good friends.
Jumping back sixty years, the book flashes back to Elsie’s girlhood in Garmisch, Germany during World War II. Her sister, whose Nazi fiancé died in duty through unclear circumstances, was left to have their child out of wedlock. “Luckily,” she was spared disgrace and admitted into the Lebensborn program; as a result, only Elsie is left to help her parents run their bakery during the lean war years. She is courted by Nazi officer, which would give her family some protection, but she longs for a marriage of love rather than convenience. As the war progresses, Elsie is forced to make difficult decisions that will affect her and her family for the rest of their lives.
I love how this book is set up. By jumping back and forth between the atrocities of the Nazi regime and the hardships that undocumented immigrants coming into the United States from Mexico, the reader can see parallels in the subtle ways that history repeats itself. Not that McCoy is claiming that the current hostile immigration climate is equal to the Holocaust…not at all! But one can see how certain attitudes (apathy, empathy, outright hostility, etc.) towards a group of people can have specific repercussions no matter the era.
I also loved how the book showed so many complexities. Elsie grew up in that world of ideological complexities; Elsie and her parents were proud of her sister for participating in Lebensborn and working to conceive genetically favorable children for the Fatherland. By the end of the war, like many Germans, they had experienced so many hardships that everything they’d once valued was questioned or rejected. For Riki, Reba’s Border Patrol officer fiancé, it was about the duties he had to his job and his country, and the duties he had to his heritage; as the book progresses, his world no longer looks so black and white. And in getting to know Elsie and Jane, Reba was also forced to reexamine a lot of beliefs she took for granted:
“[In] the photo, you’re all dressed up. Where were you going?” …
“A Nazi party,” Elsie finally replied.
Rebas’s hand lifted off the page. This was more interesting than expected. She tried to keep a neutral tone. “Were you a Nazi?”
“I was German,” replied Elsie.
“So you supported the Nazis?”
“I was German,” Elsie repeated. “Being a Nazi is a political position, not an ethnicity. I am not a Nazi because I am German.”
“But you were going to a Nazi party?” …
“It’s no different than here,” Elsie went on. “You can love and support your sons, brothers, husbands, fathers–your soldiers–without supporting the political agenda behind the war.”
The Baker’s Daughter is vividly written and highly entertaining; I couldn’t put it down. It also doesn’t hurt that part of the book is set in Texas. 😉 People who tend to shy away from historical novels might be surprised by how engaging the book is. And one of the coolest things about the book? With so much of it taking place in and around bakeries, there’s even a list of bread recipes at the back of the book (Brötchen recipe: I’m looking at–and drooling over–you)! Whether you read this for a book club or just for your own pleasure, The Baker’s Daughter offers plenty for you to munch on.
The Baker’s Daughter was released on January 24, 2012 by Crown Publishing Group, an imprint of Random House. The book is on tour right now, so be sure to check out what other bloggers are saying about it.