Baking Breads and Tales in Wartime Germany

And now for The Baker’s Daughter

I know I was supposed to post this last week, but between one thing and the other….well, better late than never I guess!

The Baker’s Daughter is a novel by Sarah McCoy.

I had never read any of Sarah McCoy’s previous work and picked up this book solely because of three reasons –

– The back cover told me that it’s historical fiction set during the World War II

– The story for a change was from a perspective of a German and not an allied power and I already had a great impression of writings from the German perspective from books like The Book Thief and wanted to continue exploring this genre

– It seemed to blend in my other passion very well, i.e. cooking! (I mean it’s called The Baker’s Daughter!!!)

Goodreads tell me that Sarah McCoy is a daughter of an Army officer. She spent her early years in Germany and prior to writing books, she taught writing at the University of Texas at El Paso. Her first book was The Time It Snowed in Puerto Rico and The Baker’s Daughter was published in 2012.

The-Bakers-Daughter-JacketThe Baker’s Daughter is set towards the end of World War II in the small town of Garmisch, Germany. Its 1945 and Elsie Schmidt lives with her parents above the bakery run by her father. She is being courted by a very senior SS official and her sister is part of the The Lebensborn Program. It’s an all-German family, living and believing in the values set by The Fuhrer, believing in the ultimate destiny of a superior Germany with a Third Reich. However things change for Elsie and her family, when a young boy shows up at her door one night and she is forced to take a decision that will change her and her family’s fate. Parallelly, there is a modern-day story of Reba Adams who is in the lookout for a great Christmas story and bumps into a bakery. Reba Adams is a loner who wants to move out of her relationship with her boyfriend and the town of El Paso, Texas, to start a new life in San Francisco and distance herself from her half-truths and the memories of her past. As the novel progresses, the two tales collide and become one story of valor, humanity and the ability of a human spirit to survive!

Now for the book – it’s wonderful! I know this is like stating it right out there, but it is absolutely wonderful. Maybe because I read it right after The Shell Seekers, I felt the impact more. But I really really liked the novel and would seriously recommend it.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like the novel does not have flaws – there is the stereotypical sexually aggressive, pseudo masochist Nazi, who conveniently shows up to bring a twist to the tale. There is also at the other end of the Nazi spectrum, the tortured Nazi, who is trying to come to terms with his own harrowing deeds and then meets a very non original end. Towards the end of the novel, it seems like somehow, the author was in hurry to end the book, so she neatly packaged out what could have been a more meaty middle and epilogue of the book.  The writing is also very linear and sometimes too simplistic.

Having said all of this, I still say that this is a marvelous book! To begin with, in the character of Elsie Schmidt, the author has created a wonderful heroine, who is both human and yet capable of great kindness, even at personal costs. She is warm, intelligent and sometimes absolutely hilarious character, whose voice echoes through the book. Another wonderful character is Elsie’s mother, a strong resilient woman, who will stop at nothing to save her family. The book is filled with some interesting insights into Nazi Germany including The Lebensborn Program.  The Program, per Wikipedia, was a state-run program to boost the number of racially pure Aryan children, including those born of extra marital relations. Through the book, the author tries to give an authentic feel of a country at the brink of losing a war, struggling with shortages and poverty and death of thousands and thousands of her men. The reader has a very strong sense of a raging war and its impacts unlike the very superficial layering of it in The Shell Seekers. Lastly, the book has some wonderful description of food – especially German breads and other bakeries and some lovely detailing on how the bakers managed their supplies and kept the business going, as the country spiraled towards scarcity and poverty.

I know there are great many works written about Germany during World War II and of course this book does not stand in competition to such works like Schindler’s Ark, but it is great read and I recommend atleast one read!

One girl, some books and Nazi Germany

New Year, New Books.

I recently read The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. Though this is not a new book per se, since it was originally published in 2005, but I read it just a couple of days ago and for me therefore it has all the joy of unchartered territory, especially since I had never read any work by Markus Zusak prior to this.

Markus Zusak is an Australian author who has written some great children’s work including The Underdog, Fighting Ruben Wolfe and When Dogs Cry. Though he received several awards and recognitions for these works, his breakthrough came with the The Book Thief which was as I mentioned first published in 2005 and since then has been translated in 30 languages and garnered the #1 position in The New York Times Bestsellers.

Now about the book –

the-book-thiefThe Book Thief is set in Nazi Germany on the eve of World War II and it spans the years from 1939 -1944 in a town called Molching, Germany. The story’s narrator is Death (Yes! As in THE DEATH) and  begins as an eight year old Liesel Meminger is taken by her mother for adoption to a foster family – housepainter and accordion player Hans Hubermann and his wife Rosa Hubermann, whose washing and ironing for the richer households. The story then describes Liesel’s relationship with her foster parents, other residents of the neighborhood including Rudy Steiner, who becomes her best friend and Ilsa Hermann, the mayor’s wife and a Jewish fist fighter, who hides in Hubermann’s basement to escape the Nazis.

While the back cover synopsis may look very To Kill a Mocking Bird meet’s Schindler’s Ark, do not go with that kind of mindset, for this book is completely unexpected.  I do mean unexpected – it does cater to certain cliché’s like the German who does not want to be a Nazi or the German who risks his life to save a Jewish life, but that’s where the cliché’s end. This book is beautifully crafted, written with great depth and while the language is simple, since its attributed to a young girl, there is a lot of sensitivity and originality in the whole work. There are several instances of dry humor as well as some very upsetting moments, including one scene where I cried in buckets. (Yes! I do cry when I read books and no, I am not sentimental, just someone who is extremely sensitive!)  The plot is unusual not so much in the characters as much in the details and events of the tale. Another extremely rare aspect of the book is that at the very onset of each book (The novel is divided into 10 Books), the reader comes to know what will ensure in that book as well as the next, so in a way, the author gives away the ending, right at the beginning. However the power of the tale as well as the brilliant writing will keep the reader going despite knowing the obvious end.

New York Times wrote that “It’s the kind of book that can be LIFE CHANGING.” – I am not sure if it can be life changing, since we are all different people and we all react to things differently, but I can say this, that not to have read this is a loss and a big loss at that. This is a must read for all those who consider themselves books/novels/literature connoisseur, for this novel may be considered a  modern classic one day!!! It’s a poetic, touching and absolutely heartbreaking work that scopes out the immense generosity that humans posses.

Some Books and One Wish

Book reading 2As another year draws to an end, I wonder at my last post and think what would be the most appropriate ending for the year. Should I do a scorecard again, like I did in August? Should I carry on with my usual posts on books, friends and sundry? What would be the most befitting farewell to 2012 and then suddenly I knew – for someone who loves books, I would want to list some of my best reads of the year in no order of preference – it’s hard to really always scale things you love; especially if they are tied to a place. So without any further ado, here goes –

Book reading 1

Some are just darn good tales, while others are serious body of literature, while still others are morality tales of modern kind  – no matter what they are, I enjoyed them thoroughly and my life is so much more enriched, because I met these novels and their characters!

While I signoff for the year, here’s wishing all my readers a wonderful 2013 with all the joy and laughter! Thank you for tagging along with me through this year and for sharing your thoughts, experience or simply your likes! Thank you most importantly for taking the time out through this year to read through my random musings!

Cheers to 2013!

P.S. Here’s a special wish for all the follow book maniacs – wish you all a joyous and wondrous reading in the New Year! May we all get new books and brilliant new authors to savor! Happy Reading!