Review of The Baker’s Daughter by Sarah McCoy ~with audio review

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 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, and she sits down with the owner of Elsie’s German Bakery for what she expects will be an easy interview. But Reba finds herself returning to the bakery again and again, anxious to find the heart of the story—a story that resonates with her own turbulent past. For Elsie, Reba’s questions are a stinging reminder of that last bleak year of World War II. 

As the two women’s lives become intertwined, both are forced to confront the uncomfortable truths of the past and seek out the courage to forgive.

Available on Amazon.

The audio:

Elisabeth Rodgers delivers a good performance of the reading of The Baker’s Daughter. Her differentiation between male and female voices is well done. I really enjoyed learning the pronunciation of German words and place names and the narrator’s use of accents certainly helped with this. Differentiation between individual female characters wasn’t as strong, however. Also, the voice used for Jane didn’t quite seem to match her physical description or the mannerisms described. Overall though, the narration added a richness to the story that I really enjoyed. The production is excellent. I noted no blips and the audio and text remained in sync for the duration.

The story:

I’ve had this story on my kindle for a while. Earlier this month, though, I was looking for a historical fiction to get back on track with my hist-fic challenge. I also didn’t mind the audiobook format as, while using the text to speech option my kindle is useful, it lacks the personality and melody of actual narrators.

I have to say, sometimes those dual timelines just really work in a story and this is one of those times. I loved how the story flits from Reba in present time to Elsie in WWII Germany. Just as the action gets a hold of you in one time period (usually Elsie’s) you’re forced to sit back and endure the suspense of reading the action in the other time period. The tactic works.

The characters are quite intriguing. So maybe Reba is meant to be the star as she’s the heroine of the present time but it’s really Elsie who steals my heart… both the younger and older versions.

From the blurb, I was expecting more of a mirroring between the two leading ladies. Yes there are similarities between them but it’s the men who really carry the connecting threads across nationalities, cultures and generations.

We have Josef, the respected German soldier interested in marrying Elsie, Reba’s father, the Vietnam War veteran, and Riki, a border patrol officer. They are all men whose conscience can’t sync with the demands of their jobs. Country and duty warring against their humanity. All three, in a way, too compassionate and too human for the jobs which they hold.

Riki couldn’t help but think there had to be a better way than this—useless suffering, unwarranted loss. There had to be a way for him to be loyal to his country and his personal convictions.

It was sobering to see how such different men, in such different circumstances, carried almost identical burdens. Two share a similar fate but one may just find a solution.

The cultural element: I loved this part of the book. Readers are exposed to both German and Mexican traditions, especially through food. Jane (Elsie’s daughter) and Reba both find a way to include and embrace Mexican traditions in their daily lives through their significant others.

In terms of the historical element, it was interesting to read through the perspective of a young German girl whose family accepted Hitler and the way of life imposed on them by his regime. Elsie explains to Reba that she should not be referred to as a Nazi, but that she was simply a German girl, living in a Germany that brooked no disloyalty to the regime. Her family was regarded as having “highly desirable Aryan traits” and her sister was given special accommodation for that. The reality of the brainwashing of society is quite evident, and it is many years before Elsie’s father can understand that.

This is a story rich in culture and well-researched historical elements, for example The Program in Lebensborn, which was set up to raise the birth rate of Aryan children. Quite a fascinating true story that finds a voice in this story.

Reba’s story in the present time wasn’t the strongest part of the narrative but I loved the bond she developed with Jane and Elsie.

Overall, I enjoyed this story, the food, the characters and the history. I give The Baker’s Daughter 4/5 espresso shots.

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