• Hardcover: 320 pages
• Publisher: William Morrow (May 2, 2017)
From the multiple-award-winning, critically acclaimed author of The Hummingbird and The Curiosity comes a dazzling novel of World War II—a shimmering tale of courage, determination, optimism, and the resilience of the human spirit, set in a small Normandy village on the eve of D-Day.
On June 5, 1944, as dawn rises over a small town on the Normandy coast of France, Emmanuelle is making the bread that has sustained her fellow villagers in the dark days since the Germans invaded her country.
Only twenty-two, Emma learned to bake at the side of a master, Ezra Kuchen, the village baker since before she was born. Apprenticed to Ezra at thirteen, Emma watched with shame and anger as her kind mentor was forced to wear the six-pointed yellow star on his clothing. She was likewise powerless to help when they pulled Ezra from his shop at gunpoint, the first of many villagers stolen away and never seen again.
In the years that her sleepy coastal village has suffered under the enemy, Emma has silently, stealthily fought back. Each day, she receives an extra ration of flour to bake a dozen baguettes for the occupying troops. And each day, she mixes that precious flour with ground straw to create enough dough for two extra loaves—contraband bread she shares with the hungry villagers. Under the cold, watchful eyes of armed soldiers, she builds a clandestine network of barter and trade that she and the villagers use to thwart their occupiers.
But her gift to the village is more than these few crusty loaves. Emma gives the people a taste of hope—the faith that one day the Allies will arrive to save them.
On the coast of Normandy, the people of Vergers are trying their best to go on with their everyday lives. Since the German occupation, everyone has simply been doing their best to survive by any means necessary. For Emmanuelle, this means continuing to bake her bread; however, it is no longer the joyful task it once was. Emma was apprenticed to Ezra Kuchen, the village baker when she was 13. Since the Germans came, she watched her mentor forced to wear a yellow star and later dragged away. Emma is the only one in town left to bake and is commanded to do so for the occupying army. Forced to bake for the soldiers while she watches those around her starve, Emma decides that she will stretch her extra rations to make 14 loaves instead of the desired 12 for the Germans. She stretches her resources by adding finely ground straw to the recipe. While taking her covert bread to those who need it most, Emma is asked if she could find other things: eggs, gasoline, light bulbs, for the townspeople. So begins Emma's unintentional Resistance to keep the town alive and hopeful until help arrives.
The Baker's Secret is an extraordinary book that shows the effect of an occupation on a small town during WWII. The beautiful writing clearly conveys the struggle, the intense emotional state of the people and the beauty of the area. I could easily imagine Emma's baking shed, the coastline and the church. More importantly, The Baker's Secret impressed upon me the importance of one person during the times of struggle. Emma's perseverance and ingenuity saved lives and gave her town hope. Another aspect highlighted was the choices people will make in order to stay alive, some will paint "V's" on a tree in order to tirelessly annoy the occupying troops, some will use their beauty to take up with the enemy, some will turn in their neighbors, some will bake extra bread, some will join the Resistance and risk their lives smuggling ammo. listening in to German conversation and counting paces. With the Resistance the importance of every person's actions put together was highlighted. I thought it was especially important that the people who everyone believed were inconsequential, those who have been outcast, or with disabilities were able to do the most because they went unseen. These characters weren't even called their true names, going by The Goat and Monkey Boy, they were as big of heros as Emma. Lastly, it was very interesting to see the D-Day invasion through the eyes of the townspeople, it is what they hoped for for so long but happened very differently than they imagined. Overall, a tremendous story of courage, strength and hope of a town during WWII.
This book was received for free in return for an honest review.
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Stephen P. Kiernan is a graduate of Middlebury College, Johns Hopkins University, and the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop. During his more than twenty years as a journalist, he has won numerous awards, including the Brechner Center’s Freedom of Information Award, the Scripps Howard Award for Distinguished Service to the First Amendment, and the George Polk Award. He is the author of The Curiosity, his first novel, and two nonfiction books. He lives in Vermont with his two sons.
Find out more about Stephen at his website and connect with him on Facebook and Twitter.