“I’ve never been fooled by the romantic, grand gestures. Love is all about the little things, the everyday considerations, kindness, and pardons.” [pg 30]
The Baker’s Daughter by Sarah McCoy
The Baker’s Daughter by Sarah McCoy
Fiction; 292 pgs
My thoughts on this book can be summed up in three words: I loved it. Sarah McCoy is my new favorite author. That’s all. Want to know more? Here you go . . .
In 1945, Elsie Schmidt is a naive teenager, as eager for her first sip of champagne as she is for her first kiss. She and her family have been protected from the worst of the terror and desperation overtaking her country by a high-ranking Nazi who wishes to marry her. So when an escaped Jewish boy arrives on Elsie’s doorstep in the dead of night on Christmas Eve, Elsie understands that opening the door would put all she loves in danger.
Sixty years later, in El Paso, Texas, Reba Adams is trying to file a feel-good Christmas piece for the local magazine. Reba is perpetually on the run from memories of a turbulent childhood, but she’s been in El Paso long enough to get a full-time job and a fiancé, Riki Chavez. Riki, an agent with the U.S. Border Patrol, finds comfort in strict rules and regulations, whereas Reba feels that lines are often blurred.
Beneath the surface is a story about love, about family and about relationships. It’s about facing our demons—our pasts—our fears and our regrets. And about forgiveness—not only of others, but of ourselves. Yet, perhaps not in the way you might think.
The Baker’s Daughter caught my attention initially because of its tie to World War II. But if you are thinking the novel is just another story about a woman who must decide whether or not to shelter a Jewish person during the Holocaust, you’d be mistaken. Beneath the surface is a story about love, about family and about relationships. It’s about facing our demons—our pasts—our fears and our regrets. And about forgiveness—not only of others, but of ourselves.
I loved Elsie Schmidt from the beginning, from her innocence as a young woman to her wisdom and positive outlook on life as a much older one. She showed great courage and yet was also very human in terms of her vulnerability and thought processes. I would like to be more like her, truly. She seems to radiate wisdom and love, even despite the darker spots in her past.
Elsie’s sister Hazel’s story particularly interested me. I was not too familiar with the Lebensborn Program before having read the novel. The researcher in me was intrigued, however, and off I went to learn more. In an effort to promote and continue a “pure” race, the Lebensborn Program was designed to encourage "approved" young women and SS officers to procreate. Infants deemed acceptable were then placed in homes of SS officers to be raised. Those found to be unacceptable were disposed of. In Hazel’s case, she volunteered for the program after the father of her son was killed. Through her letters to her sister, the reader gets to know Hazel and her situation. It was heartbreaking to say the least.
I found Josef, friend to Elsie's family, to be a particularly diverse and interesting character. I really appreciated how the author portrayed his character and the way she wove his story into Elsie's. As an SS officer, he provided an interesting viewpoint. He wasn’t guiltless by any stretch in terms of the atrocities committed against the Jewish people during World War II; however, some of the choices he made, some of the doubts and regrets he had, made him seem more sympathetic—more human. It goes to show what a skilled writer Sarah McCoy is.
Of all the characters, I most identified with Reba. I didn’t always like the choices she made. She could be a little cold at times—or so it seemed. But that’s just the way she was. That was part of her defense. It’s easy as a reader to see the whole picture. The characters within the story often only know their own hearts and minds. In some ways, as I read, I felt like Sarah McCoy had gotten into my head and was holding up a mirror to me—“See?” She was saying, “I know you. I understand.” I couldn’t have chosen a more perfect time to read this book as I am coming to terms with my own past and the loss of my father. Reba’s and my lives are entirely different, of course. Still, I could relate to her in a lot of ways. I know what it is like to grow up with a parent who suffers from Depression and alcoholism. I know what it is like to move hundreds of miles to get away. I know what it is like to feel alone, to not trust anyone, and to be afraid to get close to anyone. I know what it is like to want to be someone else, sometimes trying to be someone else. I know what it is like to be depressed too.
Elsie’s story is not much different in some respects, only it is more about her own decisions, including how they impact her relationship with her family. She had such difficult choices to make, as did everyone in her family during a very trying time. In some ways, I could relate to her story as well, particularly in terms of her relationship with her father.
A subject I wasn’t quite expecting to pop up in the novel was the issue of immigration, in particular those crossing over the border from Mexico illegally. It makes sense, really, given Reba’s fiancé Riki’s job as a border patrol agent. Still, I hadn’t expected it to take a somewhat prominent role. I think it provided a good juxtaposition to Reba’s journey through the course of the book as well as with her relationship with Riki.
Sarah McCoy has taken several different elements and adeptly woven them together in The Baker’s Daughter. There are two seemingly very different stories, and yet they come together in such a way that makes it nearly impossible not to see the parallels and common themes. I took much away from this book and continue to think about it days--even weeks--after.
There wasn’t anything I did not like about The Baker’s Daughter, from the well-drawn characters to the various story lines, to the historical and present day aspects. This book offers a lot of food for thought (and recipes at the end!) as well as touched my heart. I had a similar experience reading The Baker’s Daughter as I did reading Ann-Marie MacDonald’s The Way the Crow Flies. Is it any wonder then that Sarah McCoy’s novel, The Baker’s Daughter, is not only my favorite so far this year, but also made my all-time favorite book list?
I hope you will check out what others had to say on the TLC Book Tours route!
Many thanks to the TLC Book Tours for the opportunity to be a part of this book tour. Hardcover edition of The Baker's Daughter provided by the publisher.