Title: The Baker’s Secret
Author: Stephen P Kiernan
Genre: Historical Fiction (Secular)
Publishing Date: May 2, 2017
About the Book:
From the 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.
But 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.
There is something about reading historical fiction that often leaves me in a “book fog” long after closing the book. There is something about reading about real times in the past that really hit my emotions and make me wonder how I would have reacted under similar circumstances. Knowing that the characters themselves are fictional holds little comfort when the events themselves are true, because they could have been real people. While I’ve read several books that take place during WWII, I believe this is my first book that lead up to D-Day. I first discovered the book on Goodreads, so I was excited when I saw it was on sale on Amazon a few weeks ago.
We live in a day an age that “rationing” is a foreign concept to the younger generations. During WWII the rations were a way of life. Even here in America people were limited as to what they could buy. While I was born long after the rationing ended, I was fortunate enough a few years ago to see what a book of ration stamps looked like because my neighbor Joyce still had some left. We actually got a giggle over the back cover that said to not dispose of them in case they would be of use in the future again. I’m not sure how much they’d be worth over 50 years later. But the reality is that in Europe, the rations were often not enough for people to even survive. It’s not uncommon to hear of stories of people making it out alive not because the rations were enough, but because they were able to come up with other solutions to keep themselves fed. Emma’s ability to think more long-term in her schemes to help her community eat are what helped keep life flowing for the people. Instead of people paying in money, they paid in what they each had so that they were able to survive by pulling all they had together. If a person couldn’t be trusted, then they were left out.
Something I found quite interesting about this story, was the ability of the people to forgive. While there are things people did that would have originally led them to be judged harshly, those judgments were slowly removed as people discovered all they had to do in order to survive. One example was a character named Michelle. She is originally judged for being a whore because of her relations with a soldier. Eventually once Emma has a conversation with her, you see that her reasons are out of desperation and fear for her life more than anything. In the end, Michelle proves useful by drawing the attention of soldier away from his motorcycle and therefore his tank of gas. I could give more details to this but it would start a chain that would lead to giving too much away. So instead I will simply say that whatever people were able to barter came in handy for the big picture of allowing the town to still function while secretly maintaining an alliance in the face of evil.
As with many historical fiction reads, this was a powerful one. The drive of the people to not only survive themselves, but to help others to survive as well really speaks volumes to the definition of a community. This story really spoke to my heart, and it’s one I highly recommend.
Age Appropriateness/Content Warnings:
While most of what I review on here is Christian, this book is not. For what it could be though, I would consider it fairly clean. There are a few instances of cursing, but they are rare. There is one instance of cursing in God’s name. While it’s not violent throughout the entire story, there are several violent scenes, which can be expected of any WWII novel. I think I would personally recommend this for ages 15 and up.