A lot of books have been written about the Second World War by now. More so from the perspective of the Holocaust and nothing else. At times, you also think that you have read it all. After all, how different can one story be from the other? I have always thought that or rather used to. To read enough all the time about a particular incident does not make you an expert on it. Nothing can till you live it. That I guess just holds true for any human life. It has to be endured, and lived and sometimes chronicled.
“The Baker’s Daughter” was an interesting read for me this month. Though it started very slowly and did not interest me initially, it picked pace at about page fifty or so and from then on did not let go. The year is 1944 and the Third Reich rule Germany. Elsie Schmidt is sixteen years old and the youngest daughter of a baker in Germany. Everything seems to be going fine in her life, till she discovers a surprise in her house and from there on life changes course and events unfold. This is further complicated with another track, years later, in late 2000’s, practically sixty years later, when the past emerges and threatens to merge with the present. For now, this is all that I can give away.
Why should you or anyone else for that matter read this book? Because according to me, the book is written the way it should be. It is precise in its plot and the emotions it wants to convey with every turn of the page, which as a reader, matters the world to me and my sensibilities. It is well-researched and almost makes you think more of men and women thrown in extraordinary circumstances and what they must do to survive and make decisions against their nature. There were times in the book that I got a little bored by the description, but as I read further, I understood that it had its place and could not be done without.
The two story lines are fantastically juxtaposed and more intelligently so. The shifting in timelines does take some time to get used to, however once you do, then it is a cakewalk. Elsie’s story and character is but obviously the stronger one, however the second track is equally important and needed. The setting is quite challenging given the number of books already written on this subject, both fiction and non-fiction. McCoy does a fantastic job of chronicling the side of the Holocaust that is rarely written or talked about – the German side (this is to give you an inkling to the rest of the story without giving away anything about the plot).
There are some acts in life that are born out of humanity, some out of kindness, and some purely out of love. This story reflects that and makes us question our choices in times of need and how we behave and act. This is one of the times that I went back and reflected on the quiet power of storytelling.