Baker's Secret
by Kiernan, Stephen P.

After her kind mentor is arrested because of his Jewish heritage, a young baker's apprentice in Normandy engages in discreet resistance activities, baking contraband loaves of bread for the hungry using surplus ingredients taken from occupying forces.

*Starred Review* By June fourth of 1944, Emma and her fellow villagers on the Normandy coast have known German occupation for years. The army takes the lion's share of whatever is available, leaving the people hungry and wanting, and an atmosphere of despair has settled over the town. Emma was still a young woman when the Germans came and when she watched as they killed the kind Jewish baker to whom she was apprenticed. From that time forward, Emma has kept her head down, baking only the bread she is ordered to provide to the German officers, until a day when her ingenuity and fighting spirit lead her down a different path. Taciturn and full of dread, Emma manages to bring hope to her townspeople, finding solutions to their needs and delivering food to the starving and wish-list items to the downhearted. But even while helping others, Emma feels only a stubborn nihilism, wondering why she even bothers when there is no sign of relief on the horizon. Kiernan (The Hummingbird, 2015) invites readers to fully connect with his depressed and stoic heroine in this beautifully written account of the emotional and moral struggles of a people gripped by fear in the depths of WWII. Copyright 2017 Booklist Reviews.

While Europe awaits liberation from Hitler's troops, one small Normandy village is held together by the resourcefulness of a 22-year-old woman with a talent for baguettes.Through the hungry, despairing years of the Nazi occupation, hopes of an Allied invasion give most of the inhabitants of Vergers, a French northern coastal community, something to live for, but not baker Emmanuelle. "They will never come," she repeats, burdened by the deportations and deaths of those she loves. Yet, despite her pessimism, Emma is waging her own one-woman war effort, bartering and distributing eggs, dribbles of petrol, and secret extra loaves to keep the village alive. Kiernan's (The Hummingbird, 2015, etc.) portrait of the terrors and systematic cruelty of German rule is rooted in fact but softened by the conventions of the genre. There's light humor, like a pigpen too smelly for the Nazis to search, and then there's the cast of more-or-less predictable characters. The Germans, seemingly con scripted from central casting, are either cloddish or cunning ("The colonel…a bald man, who kept his monocle in place by maintaining a constant sneer"), while Emma and her community tend to follow stereotype: Resistance stalwarts, turncoats, beauties, and wise elders. When the D-Day landing does eventually begin, Emma, in special peril since her deceptions have been exposed by a dastardly Nazi captain, must finally accept that change has arrived. In fact she is brought to tears by witnessing the sacrifice of "whole cities of men" so that she, her family, friends, and neighbors can live freely, and here the novel does achieve emotional resonance before returning to more well-worn dramatic turns and heroics. Evoking a not exactly unfamiliar chapter of 20th-century history, Kiernan succeeds in engagement but not much originality. Copyright Kirkus 2017 Kirkus/BPI Communications. All rights reserved.

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