The Baker's Daughter by Sarah McCoy, 304 pages. Available in hardcover, Kindle, Nook, and ebook from Crown Publishing Group.
In 1945, Elsie Schmidt was a naïve teenager, as eager for her first sip of champagne as she was for her first kiss. But in the waning days of the Nazi empire, with food scarce and fears of sedition mounting, even the private yearnings of teenage girls were subject to suspicion and suppression. Elsie’s courtship by Josef Hub, a rising star in the Army of the Third Reich, has insulated her and her family from the terror and desperation overtaking her country. 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 puts 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 a rolling stone, 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 full-time fiancé, Riki Chavez. Riki, an agent with the U.S. Border Patrol, finds comfort in strict rules and regulations, whereas Reba knows that in every good story, lines will be blurred.
Reba's latest assignment has brought her to the shop of an elderly baker across town. The interview should take a few hours at most, but the owner of Elsie's German Bakery is no easy subject. Elsie keeps turning the tables on Reba, and Reba finds herself returning to the bakery again and again, anxious to find the heart of the story. For Elsie, Reba's questions have been a stinging reminder of darker times: her life in Germany during that last bleak year of WWII. And as Elsie, Reba, and Riki's lives become more intertwined, all are forced to confront the uncomfortable truths of the past and seek out the courage to forgive.
This was one of those parallel stories in two parts - one in the present, one the past - in this case one far exceeds the other and seemed strong enough to stand alone. Elsie's story, as the titled baker's daughter, the correspondence with her sister in the Lebensborn program and experience as a German national with a heart of compassion are what make this book worth reading.
"Were you a Nazi?"
"I was a 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." (pg. 60ish - hard to say on a e-reader!)
The book was weakened a bit by Reba's story - in part because her inability to move forward in life looks wan in comparison to the quiet dignity of Elsie. But also it seemed like the side story of her boyfriend's work with the border patrol was supposed to in some way mirror that of Nazi Germany. And I'm not sure it's a fitting connection, even the mere suggestion seemed out of place. For me, Reba became more of a vehicle meant to give perspective to the wisdom and courage of Elsie. Despite my issues with the character of Reba, I would definitely recommend it as the WW 2 story is unique among books in this genre. Elsie's involvement with a Nazi soldier, the Lebensborn references and her unapologetic patriotism give a different perspective and tone to this historical fiction narrative, all handled in a way that doesn't stir up any sympathy for the cause of evil.
Review copy provided by the publisher, via NetGalley. Just a note: the e book version had some serious typo issues, specifically in the letter between sisters.
For more info, visit the author's website: http://www.sarahmccoy.com