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The Baker's Daughter    by Sarah McCoy Amazon.com order for
Baker's Daughter
by Sarah McCoy
Order:  USA  Can
Crown, 2012 (2012)
Hardcover, e-Book
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Sarah McCoy's excellent and mezmerizing novel, The Baker's Daughter alternates in time between 1945 Garmisch, Germany and modern day El Paso, Texas, exposing threads of shadow in her characters' pasts and revealing how they affect their future lives and those around them.

In 1945 Garmisch, young Elsie Schmidt is the baker's daughter. Her family is loyal to their country and its leader, though fearful of the Gestapo, and suffering from the general shortage of food. Her sister Hazel, who bore a child out of wedlock after her fiancÚ died unexpectedly) is in the Lebensborn Program, making superior Aryan babies with partners picked for her. However the Schmidts are luckier than most as they are fortunate to have the protection of SS officer Josef Hub, a friend of Elsie's father who seeks her hand in marriage.

In 2007 El Paso, Texas, we meet Sun City magazine journalist Reba Adams, who is reluctant to commit to her Border Patrol fiancÚ Riki Chavez, despite her love for him. Her life is filled with small lies. We wonder why, and only gradually learn of her childhood with a father haunted by his Vietnam experiences. Riki, in turn, is often conflicted by the demands of his job. Reba seeks an interview for a Christmas 'feel-good profile' of Elsie's German Bakery, but has trouble pinning down its owner. However, she quickly makes a friend of Elsie's daughter Jane, another baker's daughter, and is soon changed by knowing both Jane and Elsie.

In 1945, Josef Hub invites Elsie to a Nazi Weihnachten party, where she hears a small Jewish boy (brought for the occasion from Dachau for his 'last performance') sing Silent Night. Later the boy calls out, saving Elsie from being raped by Josef's subordinate, before escaping. When he shows up at her door that night, she hides him in a crawl space off her bedroom, worrying about discovery - and what it would mean for her family - all the weeks he's with her. While Elsie hides small Tobias, Hazel's letters grow progressively darker as she worries over the fate of one of her twins, a frail boy who is not judged a proper Aryan.

I have to say that the historical tale gripped me even more than the modern one, though both are masterfully told and fascinating. But the inevitability of Tobias's discovery had me turning pages quickly to find out what happened. Hiding him was quite a responsibility for a teenage girl, and one to make the reader question what they would do in a similar situation. I highly recommend The Baker's Daughter to you as a thoroughly engrossing and thought-provoking novel.

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