Summary and book reviews of The Baker's Daughter by Sarah McCoy

The Baker's Daughter

A Novel

By Sarah McCoy

The Baker's Daughter
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  • Hardcover: Aug 2012,
    304 pages.
    Paperback: Aug 2012,
    304 pages.

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Book Summary

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.

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. Reba finds herself returning to the bakery again and again, anxious to find the heart of the story. For Elsie, Reba's questions are 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.

prologue
GARMISCH, GERMANY
JULY 1945

Long after the downstairs oven had cooled to the touch and the upstairs had grown warm with bodies cocooned in cotton sheets, she slipped her feet from beneath the thin coverlet and quietly made her way through the darkness, neglecting her slippers for fear that their clip might wake her sleeping husband. She paused momentarily at the girl’s room, hand on the knob, and leaned an ear against the door. A light snore trembled through the wood, and she matched her breath to it. If only she could halt the seasons, forget the past and present, turn the handle and climb in beside her like old times. But she could not forget. Her secret pulled her away, down the narrow steps that creaked under weight, so she walked on tiptoe, one hand balancing against the wall.

In the kitchen, bundled dough mounds as white and round as babies lined the countertop and filled the space with the smell of milk and honey, and promises of a full tomorrow. She lit a ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. The epigraph pairs two quotes; the first is from Mark Twain. The second is from Robert Frost’s poem “The Trial by Existence.” Why do you think McCoy put these quotes together? Which characters do you believe they reference?

  2. The concept of baking, sharing and passing on recipes is woven throughout the book. What are a couple of your favorite family recipes? Have you shared those with your children and/or friends? How have recipes played a part in your own childhood and adult life?

  3. Epistolary storytelling in the form of letter writing is a vital way the characters directly communicate with one another and express many of their innermost feelings. Do you have friends or family members with whom you frequently exchange ...
Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!

Some of the recent comments posted about The Baker's Daughter. Join the discussion! You can see the full discussion here.

Can you sympathize with Reba's desire to remember her father differently?
Yes, I can sympathize with Reba, because she did love her father & it traumatized her to learn of his illness & problems because she saw a lot of herself in her father. Today, things would have been done differently. in some ways he was alot like ... - barbarab

Do you have friends or family members with whom you frequently exchange letters, cards, or emails, though you rarely see them in person or talk on the phone?
Davina, You have to order the cards with the printed signature - I didn't phrase that well! I love fountain pens as well. I used to buy disposable ones at Borders, before its demise, which were okay as far as not leaving too many blots. I like ... - lisag

Does Josef’s personal suffering justify his public actions? How does Riki justify his daily work?
I felt for Josef as well. We always believe that put in the same situation we will act differently. But the truth is we are all human and react in the moment. I had a difficult job during a difficult time - rebajane

Have recipes played a part in your own childhood and adult life?
To a certain extent. I have fond memories of certain things my mother and aunt cooked throughout my childhood. Neither were particularly good cooks but some things they made were memorable. I am an okay cook. What frustrates me is the lack of time in... - malindan

How does McCoy depict gender roles? How does the issue of empowerment manifest in Elsie and Reba's stories?
Empowered? That word doesn't fit Elsie & Reba for me. Looked it up & found some interesting background on what word meant before becoming a buzzword - " to invest with authority, authorize ... ". Elsie was challenged because of the war. She had ... - marganna

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Reviews

Media Reviews
Author Blurb Tatiana de Rosnay, international bestselling author of Sarah's Key and A Secret Kept
A beautiful, heart-breaking gem of a novel written just the way I like them, with the past coming back to haunt the present, endearing heroines and a sunny, hopeful ending. You'll wolf it up in one delicious gulp.

Author Blurb Kelly O'Connor McNees, author of The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott
Elsie Schmidt is the brave and unforgettable heroine of Sarah McCoy's beautifully written tale of family, friendship, and love. The Baker's Daughter demonstrates how the past can teach us - if only we will listen.

Author Blurb Amanda Hodgkinson, New York Times bestselling author of 22 Brittania Road
A sensitive, multilayered novel, this is a moving examination of the effect war and the politics of exclusion, have on the human heart.

Author Blurb Jenna Blum, international bestselling author of The Stormchasers and Those Who Save Us
The Baker's Daughter was a constant warm companion to me during cross-country travels, a novel I looked forward to returning to night after night. The rare book in which the modern-day story is as compelling as the wartime tale it contains, The Baker's Daughter offers a look at Nazi Germany through the lens of the immigration issues of our own time. El Paso, TX and Garmisch, Germany make for an unexpected harmony of flavors.

Historical Novel Society

Replete with raw emotion and suspense, The Baker's Daughter is a fascinating journey through a horrifying time in world history that will resonate long after you close the book.

Reader Reviews
Susan

Must Read
One of the best books I have ever read. I recommend this book to everyone who comes into the Library.

Grace

A Compelling Tale
Harsh, poignant, and touching, beautifully written, yet haunting. McCoy's novel is compelling and powerful with richly developed characters, especially Elsie.

Carol_R

The Baker's Daughter Review
If you have the appetite for a bittersweet tale, read Sarah McCoy’s “The Baker’s Daughter.” Not only will it stir your senses, it will stir your heart. The baker’s daughter is Elsie Schmidt. Her life unfolds before our eyes when reporter Reba ...   Read More

Becky H

The Baker's Daughter
A "feel good" newspaper feature is the link between the horrors of Germany during WWII and two women with secrets in present day El Paso, Texas. Both women's stories are compelling in themselves and as their lives intersect over the ...   Read More

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