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The Baker's Secret: A Novel

The Baker's Secret: A Novel

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The Baker's Secret: A Novel

valoraciones:
4/5 (31 valoraciones)
Longitud:
346 página
6 horas
Editorial:
Publicado:
May 2, 2017
ISBN:
9780062369604
Formato:
Libro

Descripción

A tale beautifully, wisely, and masterfully told.” — Paula McLain, author of The Paris Wife and Circling the Sun

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.

Editorial:
Publicado:
May 2, 2017
ISBN:
9780062369604
Formato:
Libro

Sobre el autor

STEPHEN P. KIERNAN’s widely praised debut novel, The Curiosity, was published in 2013 and is in development at Twentieth Century Fox for film adaptation. He is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop fiction MFA program and holds an MA from Johns Hopkins University. In his twenty-five years as a journalist, he has won more than forty awards. A popular public speaker, he is the author of the non-fiction books Last Rights and Authentic Patriotism. Web: stephenpkiernan.com Facebook: Stephen Kiernan Twitter: @StephenPKiernan

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The Baker's Secret - Stephen P. Kiernan

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Part One

Bread

Chapter 1

All through those years of war, the bread tasted of humiliation.

For as long as their nation had possessed a history, the residents of Vergers village had been a people of pleasure, devoted to the senses without shame, and none savored more unapologetically than those of the kitchen. Over a span of centuries, their culture had turned the routine animal act of feeding themselves into an art form. Delectable breakfast morsels with steaming coffee as dark as mud, calming lunches in the shade when haste is the enemy and cheese is the dessert, dinners luxurious, candlelit, and lasting hours—such was the rhythm of their days: Who has a story to tell, and shall we place some flowers on the table?

It did not matter that they lived in a tiny village a kilometer from the chilly northern ocean, their occupations either of the farm or of the sea. If anything, the labors of manure and milking, mending nets or hauling them, only intensified their love of flavor, patience, the company of friends. Therefore the baking of bread, a nearly daylong alternation between active kneading of dough and passive waiting for it to rise, could be as gratifying as deep breathing. In the hearth of the oven, where baguettes basked side by side, making loaves echoed making love.

Then came the occupying army to teach their senses other lessons: the clack that boot heels make when snapped together at attention, the dull smell of a rifle after the barrel has been oiled. For some, this instruction included a comparatively milder discovery—that even the most pleasing kitchen task, when it is made compulsory, becomes tedious.

Consider Emmanuelle: lovely, gifted in the kitchen, a fawn of twenty-two years. In any other time, the modest bakery where she was employed would serve as a center of commerce and community. In another era she would be distracted, preparing sweets for her Philippe, or taking all day to boil chicken stock down to a reduction so potent with concentrated flavor it could cast spells, all while dreaming of the drape of her someday bridal dress.

Instead, she rose before dawn that day, the fifth of June, to the crowing of her rooster, a belligerent strutting shouter widely known and universally disliked, whose name was Pirate because of the dark patch around one eye. Having slept on the floor beside the couch on which her grandmother now snored, Emma folded her quilt, tucked it away, and tiptoed from the parlor without waking the aged woman or causing the occupying army’s captain to stir upstairs. Slipping into her shoes by the threshold, Emma strode with purpose across the barnyard. Pirate charged after her in full lecture—his hens, his morning, his territory—until she found a pinch of feed in her pocket and tossed it by the path, winning his silence long enough for her to reach the baking shed.

Emma stirred somnolent coals in the brick oven her father had built, tossing in chestnut shells for kindling, giving the ashes a single long breath until they glowed awake and the shells crackled. Then began the tedium, the task the Kommandant had ordered her to perform seven days a week, as though she were a cow with milk to be wrung from her straining udder at morning and eve, or a chicken whelping one new egg per turn of the earth. With each passing day Emma’s love of baking grew a fraction drier, till what had once been her greatest joy dwindled to barely a husk.

She lifted cheesecloth from several bowls on the side table and studied the dough risen there like white globes. Satisfied with what she saw, Emma punched the rounds, each one contracting with a clean yeasty sigh. Only then, and after a glance out the opening to reconfirm that Pirate was the sole creature stirring, she reached behind a hanging cloth into a bin, five times returning with a handful of golden powder that she sprinkled onto the dough.

Straw. Ground fine each day to supplement the batter. Containing no nutrition whatsoever, its sole purpose was to add bulk. Thus were the rations of flour she received to make twelve loaves daily for the Kommandant and his men enlarged to produce fourteen, two of which she would secret away to divide among her neighbors and whoever in the village was in direst need.

There was never enough. There would never be enough.

Each morning required every crumb of Emma’s skills, all of her artifice, to bake loaves containing straw and have neither the Kommandant nor his officers notice. Yet this was only one of five hundred deceits, all conceived during the long strain of the occupation. She learned to sow a minefield and reap eggs. She could wander the hedgerows pulling a rickety cart, and the result would be maps. She could turn cheese into gasoline, a lightbulb into tobacco, fuel into fish. She could catch, butcher, and divide among the villagers a pig that later every person who had tasted it would insist had never existed. And all of these achievements would occur in a land of violence and slavery and oppression.

In a time of humiliation, the only dignified answer is cunning.

It began fittingly, with aroma. One morning three years earlier, when a stalled tank had blocked the paved road down the coast, the Kommandant instructed his driver to use the dirt lane that ran west from the village. Between low tide and the offshore wind, the air that day smelled sour and foul. But as the officer’s staff car passed Emmanuelle’s barnyard, the scent of baking loaves rose to him like a cloud of comfort. Ordering his driver to reverse, the Kommandant sat with closed eyes until the dust had settled. Then he stepped down from the passenger side, removing his leather gloves one finger at a time. He handed them to his driver and strolled forward.

What is that glorious smell? You, by that oven. Come forward.

Emma detested the occupying army’s language, which sounded to her as though it were created solely to give commands. Whenever soldiers conversed in her vicinity, she thought they were either gargling or preparing to spit. Sometimes she knew from their eyes that the words were lewd; lust sounds the same in every tongue. Hearing a man in uniform now speak her language, and fluidly, Emma was dumbfounded. Forget that she had scavenged flour for weeks to do that day’s baking, forget that her grandmother was hungry. She obeyed, marching across the barnyard with a loaf fresh from the oven.

The Kommandant demanded a taste. She held the baguette toward him. He took it, immediately juggling the bread hand to hand, blowing on his fingers, then giving it to his aide to hold. As the junior officer used the gloves to protect his hands, Emma smiling inwardly at her enemies’ softness, the Kommandant composed himself. After a moment he tore one end from the loaf.

At home we call this ‘the pope’s nose,’ he said, waving the snout of the baguette in the air. It was huge, a pig’s portion. He bit hard with his perfect white teeth. Chewing so that his cheek muscles flexed, the Kommandant looked into the distance, as though trying to remember something.

Excellent, he proclaimed after a moment. You people certainly have a knack. He turned to his aide, speaking in their harsh tongue for half a minute before facing Emma again. I told him to establish a flour ration for mademoiselle, first quality. And to order that you proceed here unmolested by our men. They can be eager sometimes. Henceforth you will bake twelve baguettes daily for the officers’ mess.

The aide made a note on a paper, and off they drove, still holding the remainder of the loaf.

How had Emma become so accomplished, able to bake with scant rations and yet produce a scent enticing enough to stop an army, having never ventured ten kilometers from the place where she was born?

Ten years earlier, when Emmanuelle was as thin as a willow switch, Mémé had marched her past the barnyard wall, beyond the eastern well, up the lane to the village green, and into the shop of Uncle Ezra. A little bell rang as the door closed behind them. The place was warm and smelled of yeast.

I’ve brought you an apprentice, Mémé declared.

Ezra Kuchen had no relations nearby, did not socialize, never joined the rest of the villagers in Sunday Mass at St. Agnes by the Sea. Still, he made the most splendid sticky cinnamon rolls each year on Christmas Day, one for every child in Vergers. From wedding cakes to funeral pastries, no one else would do. Despite his gruff manner, therefore, over the decades he had become family to the townspeople, and thus Uncle.

Now the mole-faced man glanced up from the counter where he was portioning dough into penny loaves, and in less than a second had focused again on his work. No girls.

As if hired to prove the point, two young men labored away behind him. Emma observed one operating a giant mixer—the metal churning arm turned at a speed she would have slowed to avoid drying out the dough. The other portioned flour, cup by cup, into a large metal bowl—not noticing the slight spill he committed each time. Neither interrupted his work to see who had entered the store.

Mémé dug in her sack, producing a pie tin. She set it on the shelf, slid away the cover, and broke off a piece of crust. Taste.

Scowling, Uncle Ezra waddled out from behind the counter. Up close, his brow bore beads of perspiration. He took the crust, sniffed it, then popped it in his mouth. He chewed thoughtfully, then slowed. You made this, Mémé? You’re improving.

For reply, she gestured with one hand. Emmanuelle, freckled and twelve, curtsied.

Is that so? Uncle Ezra crossed his arms. Then how did you cause it to flake so lightly? Answer me quick.

Olive oil with the butter, sir. I melted them together first.

Bah. How much?

Two thimbles, sir.

Heresy, he muttered. But he reached for another taste.

That was hundreds of baguettes ago, thousands. Seasons had passed, whole years. End to end, the loaves Emma had baked for her enemies would have stretched from her barn through the village to the beach, into the sea, across the salty sleeve of water, all the way to the island kingdom where the mighty Allies smoked cigars and made speeches about courage and did not come.

Now, adding wood to the fire, Emma divided the dough for that fifth day of June into fourteen portions. She spread flour on the counter and began kneading the rounds into the long and slender baguette shape. Faintly she heard a whistling from outside, the high wandering melody that issued perpetually from the puckered lips of Monkey Boy. He would be stopping at the eastern well, just outside Emma’s barnyard wall, for his morning drink. Monkey Boy’s given name was Charles, but at birth he had been touched by God, was only half sensible, and preferred to spend his days in the trees.

Emma wondered what would happen to Monkey Boy when he turned eighteen. His father was long gone; his mother despaired of so much as keeping the boy washed. Thus far, all he had demonstrated the capacity to do was sell apples, most of which the villagers purchased out of pity. The orchards in that region were solely cultivated for Calvados brandy, crushed in the fall and distilled in winter and far too bitter to eat, but somehow he had found a few trees whose fruit was edible. This discovery was no qualification for laboring far from home in the occupying army’s factories. Would the enemy conscript him to work there anyway, as they had Emma’s beloved Philippe? Or would they declare him useless, and dispose of him as they had so many others? Monkey Boy’s sixteenth birthday was in mid-August, not ten weeks away, and there was no chance the war would be over in two years. Not when it had already raged for four. Probably it would never end. So let him whistle and wander. It did no harm, and a short life might as well be a merry one.

Emma eased the loaves into the oven, fourteen pale babies swaddled in a skin of water to make a crisp crust, using her thumbnail to mark the underside of each one in the shape of a V. May you break a tooth on it, she whispered.

No one knew where the Vs began, or precisely what they meant. But for anyone with eyes open, they were as common as stones: carved into the public benches, scribbled on the chalkboards of summer’s empty classrooms, scuffed in the dirt outside the town offices. The occupying army saw, and announced that V meant victory, their mighty triumph. They put it on giant flags, flown high. By attempting to make V their own, however, they had no idea of the extent to which they committed an act of self-mockery. Proper Vs did not occur on flags or grand displays, but in secret and only among those who knew: matchbooks left on a café table, folded into a V. Driftwood piled upon the beach. Books standing open on their spines. Vs everywhere, little sprouting flowers of undiminished will.

Nonetheless, Emma’s bread would taste of humiliation. Shame flavored the village’s food because it had infiltrated the people’s hearts.

Twenty-six years after the Great War had devoured nearly two million of the nation’s young men, spending them on the countryside’s soils like so much fertilizer, a new aggressor had returned with even greater force. This mustached demon had a passion to his righteousness before which all people paled. His hordes swept through Belgium, requiring a mere nineteen days to march from armed border to triumph in the capital, whereupon the tanks turned their turrets in the direction of the coast, and the tiny village of Vergers.

Who could blame the nation’s leaders for negotiating? The madman’s power was exceeded only by his fanaticism. The linden trees had not yet grown tall enough to shade the graves of those who had died in the last war. There were no lichens yet embroidering the monuments that bore their names. Who volunteers to sacrifice another generation of sons and husbands and brothers, especially for a fight that would be futile?

Thus did life and liberty depend upon a distant ruler who did not speak the people’s language but felt at ease commanding them in his. The guttural ruled the elegant, the command replaced persuasion, the shout overwhelmed the subtle.

The invader vowed that he would not repeat the Great War, that this time would be different. His troops would behave themselves, the radio was full of propaganda, and promises of the bright future fell like petals from a bough. They would win the people’s hearts, surely, once order had been established.

It was a story people wanted to believe, but they knew better. Village by village the soldiers took down the statues, carting old heroes and artists away in railcars, as if people were too ignorant to imagine that they would soon be melted into armaments, Napoleon into gun barrels, Balzac into bullets. The pedestals on which the bronzes had stood remained in place, however, though now they were monuments to nothing.

Lies collapsed upon themselves like timbers of a barn on fire as the passionate lunatic systematically disregarded every word of the armistice. His troops took the people’s guns, confiscated their radios, packed men into cattle cars that were headed to his factories—so that his own nation’s males would be available to make new wars on new enemies.

The occupying army spread across the continent with the persistence of a disease. Emma heard it was worse in Spain, where no one was permitted to travel anywhere, for any purpose. She heard it was worse in Belgium, where no one had enough to eat. She heard it was worse in Russia, where the charismatic maniac had besieged one beautiful city and incinerated many small ones.

For two years the people of the coast lived behind a façade that fooled no one, their letters censored, mayors and police chiefs disappearing in the night, any loudmouth jailed or vanished, until the wild-eyed zealot declared it was enough. The nation would become one again, albeit united under identically strict rules. Almost overnight, the village’s signposts, alley walls, and storefronts all bore posters listing many forms of conduct—breaking curfew, possessing guns, aiding escaped prisoners, sheltering enemies, listening to foreign radio stations, refusing the occupying army’s currency—and under these lists stood a single word that required no translation: verboten.

Eventually the truth revealed itself like the sun coming up. Fuel began to run short, battles elsewhere demanded more resources, and food rations fell by half. Fishermen, normally considered smelly and coarse, became a salvation, their catch the village’s only meat.

The fastest-growing crop of that season was indignation. When a man has raised a calf, fed it, and milked it, and he sees the full frothing bucket taken away for someone else’s breakfast, the woes of elsewhere dwindle and his stomach is not all that grumbles. Only nursing mothers, pregnant women, and young children were permitted to receive a ration of milk. The occupying army insisted that this was an act of generosity. Thus did the people learn that thirsting occurs on many levels.

Some said that the coastal villages had it easier, with mere occupation. Should the Allied liberators ever rouse themselves and come to their aid, however, these lands would be the likely place of collision. No man offers his wheat field to serve as a battlefield. No woman wants her home to be a bunker.

Many days Emma saw the Allies’ bombers far overhead, aimed at some destination hundreds of miles inland, her village’s predicament so far below it might as well have been the circumstance of ants. From time to time they would cast their wreckage down, tumbling tin caskets that caused destruction so casual she wondered if these pilots might not be enemies after all: the main road to Caen destroyed, four bridges punctured which previously had enabled farmers to come to market, one of the nicest vacation homes on the bluff above the beach blown into a million bits.

The veterinarian Guillaume, a broad-shouldered man with great bushy eyebrows, explained everything to a group in the village one afternoon. Famously a devoted bachelor, Guillaume had later in life found himself a small-boned wife, a considerably younger woman, in Bayeux. Initially people thought Marie was a snob, but gradually they learned it was only that she was as shy as a newborn deer. They had just the one daughter, Fleur, barely a teen but already a staggering beauty. Timid like her mother, she wore a blue apron with patch pockets, in which her hands continuously fiddled with whatever lay hidden there.

Days after hanging the verboten posters, the occupying army was away performing maneuvers on the beach, their trucks and tanks and the thud of mortars firing, which enabled Guillaume to speak freely. Still the people formed a tight scrum in front of the row of shops, shoulder to shoulder.

The one exception was the Goat, who listened from the periphery. A ragged young man with a half-grown beard whose actual name was Didier, the Goat sometimes slept on a shelf in Emma’s empty hog shed, emerging in the morning steeped in the smell of pig urine, a scent as pungent as ammonia. Also, he would argue over the least thing. Once she had heard him dispute with Yves, an experienced fisherman, over the direction of the wind. Whether it was due to his fragrance, therefore, or his antagonistic nature, the villagers’ otherwise close circle gave the Goat ample room. Emma, too, kept her distance from the group—and from the Goat, because of an event in their school days about which she was still angry. She lingered in the doorway of Uncle Ezra’s bakery, a mixing bowl in the crook of her arm, a wooden spoon in her free hand. Eyeing something across the square, she stirred and listened.

The Allies are fighting an intelligent war, Guillaume said. He had a low, calm voice. It is all quite deliberate. The fuel for our enemy’s trucks and tanks comes by rail, for example, and many of the tracks are now destroyed.

No one asked how he knew such things. Since membership in the Resistance was a capital offense, and since the occupying army mandated that villagers report anyone suspected of belonging, likewise on a threat of execution for failing to do so, not asking was a combination of impeccable manners and self-preservation.

In a rural village, moreover, few people were more trusted than a veterinarian. A sick cow could mean disaster for a small farm. The man who came at any hour and stopped the illness, preventing it from spreading to the herd, saved lives. While a physician must understand the human body in great detail, a veterinarian must have comparable knowledge about horses, pigs, goats, dogs. As a young man, Guillaume had even traveled all the way to Ghent, attending for two full years its eminent school for the health of livestock.

Guillaume had famous hands—giant and strong, yet capable of acts of astonishing delicacy—which the villagers had seen deliver a breached calf, resuscitate a lifeless piglet, and remove the worst of boils from the eye of a retriever. They had also watched those hands dispatch an animal beyond saving, the deed done with compassionate speed.

Beyond those credentials, Guillaume accepted payment in whatever currency a farmer possessed: money, food, gratitude. Thus not a villager questioned his knowledge of military doings.

He continued: Those bridges were stout enough to hold tanks, which now have a nine-mile detour to reach the coast. That damaged road was the fastest way for the enemy to bring reinforcement troops to our beaches. Now there can be no counterattack.

Guillaume drew in the dirt with a stick as he spoke, mapping and explaining, and when he finished he swept it all away with his boot.

As the group straightened, digesting the news, Emmanuelle made a declaration from her bakery doorway. It is a fairy tale.

Guillaume tossed the stick aside. What is?

This strategy nonsense. All wishing and self-importance. We are far too small to be part of any elaborate scheme.

Our village, perhaps. But not our location. It is possible that an invasion here would be the tip of the Allies’ spear.

Then we will be impaled upon it, she replied, stirring a moment, and speaking to her bowl. Train tracks and bridges are diversions, to keep the occupying troops busy building defenses here, to weaken their army in the east.

Guillaume nodded. That may be, Emma. But how do you know these things?

Everyone knows. Everyone with a radio. Emma cast her gaze down at the assembled group. People looked away or at the ground.

The great Allied tank commander who won in Africa was seen near Calais, she continued. If we know this, then the invaders certainly know it. At best, we are a decoy. She waved her spoon at the circle of them as a witch would conjure a spell. The Allies will never rescue us. They will never come.

Don’t say that, the Goat shouted, flapping the arms of his fraying coat. You are preaching despair. You don’t know anything.

Emma considered him a moment, then pinched her nose with her fingers and went back into the bakery. The Goat let his hands fall to his sides.

Whichever approach they use, she heard Guillaume say, the Allies are preparing to win. We must be patient.

Patient? It would have been easier for the people to hold their breath for a month. Perhaps slavery is harder for a person who has known freedom. Perhaps it does not matter.

The villagers chafed under so many rules, and found small, perhaps pathetic ways of rebelling. For example, the time of day.

The army’s home country lay in a different time zone, sixty minutes ahead. When the occupation began, the villagers were ordered to adapt. Yet without any overt collusion, they routinely arrived at events an hour late. They would claim confusion, or having been misled by the town hall clock, and the soldiers could only conclude that the people of Vergers were exceptionally stupid. No matter how emphatically the officers insisted on punctuality, or how many posters they hung about order, the villagers remained one hour out of reach.

A man could be outwardly obedient, but tardiness revealed his inner determination, proof that slavery affects only the body. It does not include possession of the heart.

The one schedule villagers did obey was distribution of meat rations. Then they became sheep. Even the strongest are humbled by hunger. Odette told everyone that it was only meat that gave bodies strength, that kept an empty stomach from gnawing at itself.

She was likeliest to know. Odette ran the town’s sole surviving café—a ten-table establishment that served locals and soldiers without discrimination. A few villagers still had cash, and Odette accepted foreign currency as well. Her supplies came from the black market, to which the soldiers turned a blind eye so long as their plates had decent portions and their glasses were filled to the brim. For locals, her prices were inflated. For the occupying army, they were rapacious.

Odette was mannish despite

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  • (4/5)
    I loved "The Curiosity"! This book was a well written story about WW2 - a wonderful story about a tenacious girl who uses her wits to help her community.
  • (4/5)
    Fascinating viewpoint of life in Normandy, France before and during the infamous battle of WW2 as seen through the eyes of village baker Emma. Their lives were turned inside out and upside down with the arrival of the despicable, and violent invading army of Germans. Normalcy goes right out the window and in steps deception, murder and starvation. Up steps the bread baker Emma ,who creates a lifeline for them all. Heartbreaking, knowing that stories like this existed in real life. Uplifting in knowing the fortitude of the multitudes..
  • (3/5)
    This was a quick read, and it held my attention well enough. I thought it was interesting seeing how Emma set up her network, but despite her good deeds, I often found it difficult to like her due to her bitterness and pessimism. Also, her reaction to holding a baby was extreme and disturbing. Happily, she did seem to grow by the end, and it was interesting to see D-Day from a civilian point of view.
  • (5/5)
    Kiernan's novel is set in a small village in Normandy in the months leading up to D-Day, June 6, 1944, when the people of France were living under Nazi occupation. The apprentice baker, Emma suffers immense losses and witnesses unimaginable cruelty but despite this, she resolves to do her best for her grandmother and friends while remaining sceptical of a rescue from Allied forces. She is given an extra ration of flour to make twelve baguettes for the Nazi soldiers, but by adding ground straw she is able to save enough flour to make two extra loaves for starving villagers. Combined with other innovative ways to procure food this modest young woman helps her neighbours endure the unendurable, at considerable risk to herself.Although she accomplished much in the way of helping villagers survive, when the allied invasion comes about, she is overwhelmed by the losses incurred just so that her people can live freely. It's a heartbreakingly familiar story, but Kiernan's writing style has a poetic quality that conveys something extra, more like a parable. It is beautifully written, thought-provoking and memorable.
  • (5/5)
    This was an early review book from Librarything and I loved it. I liked Kiernan's "The Hummingbird" but this was even better. I try to be selective because I seem to be reading a high number of books revolving around WWII. But this was from a different perspective. It takes place in a small French village that is near the beaches that will see the D-Day landings and all inhabitants are trying to do is survive the Nazi occupation and get enough to eat to sustain them Kiernan effortlessly brings the characters to life, I felt like I would have recognized them if I walked into the town. They and their circumstances we very believable and I shared their pain when something sad happened and laughed when they were able to outwit their enemy. Very well written.
  • (5/5)
    Five stars! An amazing book, hit the last page and literally re-read the entire book! Stephen Kiernan is an amazing author. I could visualize, almost feel, every part of this story. From the scenery to the emotions to the fear and hunger of the townspeople. I was reading the last few chapters crying. It is unimaginable what the people of France survived during the war. I honestly think this needs to be a novel taught in high school or even middle school. It is such an honest depiction of what happens in war time. A novel I've read twice and would gladly read again. I'm having my English department Chair read this book in hopes of getting it on the curriculum. I think it may be more effective in teaching empathy than even Anne Frank's diary. So thankful for being allow to read this great novel.
  • (4/5)
    I adore books about WWII so when I saw I won this one I was pretty excited. The story did not disappoint. I didn't really know a lot about what the French went through, so this was really eye-opening and intriguing. The storyline is well written, the characters are developed. I would recommend this book. 4.5 out of 5 stars.
  • (3/5)
    Had a really hard time with this book. The story line was really good. It just got too boring for me. Could not follow sometimes. I see it is a best seller already. Wishing you all the best with this one. Love WWII historical fiction.
  • (4/5)
    The Baker's Secret is an instant classic hit! From the very beginning, I was transported back in time. I could feel the pain and anger when Ezra was executed by the Germans. Even though I barely got to know him, I had already started to form a connection with him. From the moment that Emma won him over with her knowledge and professionalism in the bakery. Although, Emma really did carry the story from the beginning until the end. Yet, she did have help from all of her neighbors and friends. From the fisherman, who traded his catch in exchange for fuel to the farmer, who gave away his fuel in exchange for tobacco, etc. Even with Emma's downer attitude of no hope that she and her neighbors will ever see the Germans leave, she could not get me down; only because she made up for it by her defiance in helping the Resistance. The Baker's Secret is a beautifully written book.
  • (4/5)
    I received this book from library thing for a review.This is a historical/fiction about a small village in Northern France that has become occupied by the Germany army during WW2.The author did a wonderful job showing what the lives of the village people was like under German rule and how they nevergave up hope that they would be delivered from the German army.We meet Emma a young baker who has been ordered to bake for the soldiers. She is giving a ration of flour to make the bread, buthas found a way of adding to it so she can make a few extra loaves to help the people who have very little to eat or feed their familiesEmma is playing a very dangerous game by doing this and if caught it would cost her, her life. Also it would cost the villagers their livesif found out that they are helping her in other ways.It shows us what chooses many people where willing to make during the German occupancy. Many lost their lives for what they believedin to help others. They never gave up hope for freedom from the German army.Would recommend this book for anyone who loves history or just a great read.
  • (5/5)
    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.
  • (5/5)
    I received an Early Reviewers copy of this book although I am not particularly early with my review. The book is another in a stream of World War II novels featuring strong female heroines in occupied countries. This book is set apart from the others in that it takes place in Belgium, a country normally overlooked in the literature. The heroine is Emmanuelle (Emma), who was apprenticed to a baker, Uncle Ezra, at a young age. After Uncle Ezra, a Jew, is shot by the Nazis, Emma becomes the only source of bread for the village. The Nazi Kommendant tastes her bread and orders her to bake ten loaves a day for him. She incorporates sawdust into her recipe, stretching the ingredients for ten loaves into fourteen. These she parcels out to hungry villagers on a daily basis, eventually setting up a barter system that enables the village people to survive rather than starve under the Nazi regime. Emma does not believe the Allies will ever come rescue her small town and is not part of the official Resistance. She does what it takes to stay alive, losing her faith in God along the way. The novel features a strong cast of characters, is well-written, and is a joy to read. Highly recommended!
  • (4/5)
    This was a moving visual of life in a small French village and what they had to deal with and endure throughout the German occupation. The book was well-written and seemingly well-researched with a relatable main character who was sucked into the resistance as a means of survival. These stories are always my favorite and really makes you think about life and death.
  • (4/5)
    IT IS June, 1944 and this small village in Normandy is under the occupation of German forces. Many have been shot or taken prisoner, but many are left alive, their services integral for the German forces.one such person is 22 year old Emma, once the Baker's assistant, she is now responsible for baking the baguettes a high ranking German officer finds he cannot do without. Emma no longer believes in her faith, nor does she have any belief that the allied forces will come to the rescue. With that in mind, she sets out to do her best to ensure the survival of those left in the village, many who are slowly starving to death. Although this subject has been replayed many times in novels, the characters set this one apart. The characters are varied, from different occupations. from the resistance, to farmers, fishermen, and one young woman finds her own, frowned upon way, to survive. Emma who knows the town's pathways and short cuts better than most, finds ways to get things to those most in need. She is spunky, clever, and formidable, though this will put her in harms way. When the invasion of Normandy finally does come, the scenes are horrific, as history dictates. A finely written novel, with some unique characters that captured my interest early on. It is often the people that risk much that save many. The Germans are stereotypically portrayed with a few exceptions. This is a read I took to heart.ARC from publisher.
  • (4/5)
    This story is set in a small village near the Normandy coast in the days preceding D-Day. It centers on Emma, the village baker, who struggles along with the rest of her neighbors through the Nazi occupation. They were all starving, yet took care of each other. I just loved this novel about these strong people. I wonder if any of us would be brave enough to do what they did. Beautiful, inspiring story about a dark time in history!
  • (2/5)
    Furing WWII, Emma does everything she can to keep the villagers in her small French town alive. She mixes sawdust with flour in order to make secret loaves of bread. She barters for medicine, soap, and other goods - anything to keep the town alive.This book was written in a detached, almost flat, way. Emma didn't really have a "voice." I think the story would have been more powerful if it had been written in a first person point of view. Overall, not a bad book, just not one I would re-read.
  • (5/5)
    This is a beautifully written historical fiction novel. It gives a real glance into what it must have been like to live in occupied France during World War II. The struggle for survival, the courage of those working within the Resistance, the hope and the despair. It doesn't shy away from the harsh realities of war, especially the brutality of the Nazis to those over whom they had control during the occupation. Emmanuelle (Emma) does not put her hope in anything or anyone; neither God, nor the Allies, nor her fellow villagers. She simply focuses on getting through each day, and yet she eventually finds her best way of doing this is by helping others to survive. Emma begins a system of trade that helps feed her neighbors and supply other items to aide their survival. Her character is often abrasive, but her manners and behaviors are reflective of the trauma she has suffered and her loss of innocence. She carries her losses inside and would not think of herself as heroic, but she manages to apply her wits and cunning to bring relief and solace to many. She is strong and brave, yet flawed, as seen in her treatment of Didier. She can be dismissive, judgmental, and scornful, or compassionate and kind. She is a fully formed character with the contradictions we all possess. I loved following her story from the beginning of the occupation through the arrival of D-Day. I highly recommend this one!
  • (4/5)
    The Baker's Secret is the story of a small French village during the German occupation of WWII. The baker is a young woman named Emma who was the apprentice to the town's baker and ended up taking over his duties when he is killed for being a Jew. I found this novel to be engrossing. It is primarily about the daily struggle of the villagers to survive despite the severe rations and mistreatment by the German officers. Emma takes on the responsibility of helping her fellow villagers obtain goods they need, which puts in her in peril every day. Getting to know the characters in the novel was a delight. The author also drew me into their fear of the Germans and provided suspense with the subterfuge required to procure essentials such as eggs and fuel. Emma discovers some ingenious ways to undermine the German officers in order to help her neighbors. I did not want to put this book down. I just had to know what was going to happen to each of the villages. This excellent novel, which I received as an Early Reviewer, is worthy of 4.5 stars.
  • (5/5)
    I read a lot of WWII fiction and this is one of the best that I've read that concentrates on the suffering of a small down in France during the occupation. The people in the town don't have any real idea of what is going on in the big picture of the war, they mainly know how it is affecting them to have German troops occupying their town and ruling their lives.The novel takes place in the village of Vergers, a small village in France about a mile from the ocean and centers around the town baker, Emma. Emma had been ordered by the German command to bake 12 loaves of bread for them every day and was given enough flour to bake just 12 loaves. Instead she mixed ground up straw with her dough so that she had enough dough to make 14 loaves and could share 2 loaves with the people in town who were the hungriest. Even though her mentor had been killed by the Germans, her father had been sent away on a train and her boyfriend had been sent to join the German army, Emma still felt that it was her duty to help the people in her town as best she could. Emma is courageous and puts her life on the line to help the people in her town. She doesn't think of herself as heroic but feels that she is doing what needs to be done to help people get through each day.The author does a fantastic job of depicting the realities of war on the people who are not part of the fighting but are the collateral damage of the war. He gives an honest portrayal of the indignities that the Germans forced onto the citizens and depicts the lives of the people who are starving and desperate in detail. This is a novel about looking for a flicker of light in the darkness and being able to find it with the help of friends.Thanks to LibraryThing for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
  • (5/5)
    The Baker's Secret is a heartbreaking tale of desperation, deprivation, and determination as experienced by the citizens of the Nazi occupied French village of Vergers. Emma is the young protagonist who watches as her friends and family suffer the daily inhumanity of war. She realizes early on that want is the result of necessity, and she develops a network to provide the most basic of needs. This unlikely heroine brings the villagers from the throes of desolation to the beginning of hope with each act of her tender mercies. The arrival of D-Day signals the end of the brutality and the evil days they lived through. Highly recommended.
  • (4/5)
    A well written and interesting recount of a horrible time in history. It lacked something in that my emotions were never put into action despite the tragedies that unfolded. I don't know how a writer achieves that but I hope his next book does. I will recommend this.
  • (4/5)
    I love historical novels about World War ll. Mr. Kiernan's characters transported my back to Normandy. It is a welcomed addition to my World War ll historical fiction collection. Thank you Mr Kiernan for a great read.
  • (5/5)
    The Baker's Secret, by Stephen Kiernan, is a book written with an unusual perspective of D-day and the months leading up to it. The protagonist - the baker - is a young woman who has suffered at the hands of the occupying Germans but through her own resilience has managed to look out for her own as well as many in the local community. While skeptical that the Allies will eventually relieve the occupation she instead concentrates on survival one day at a time. This is a very well written book, I was totally engrossed from start to finish and was disappointed that the tale didn't last longer. The characters are well formed and believable and you feel empathy for the struggles each must face. There is perhaps a little bit too much of the stereotypical occupied village people - an informant, a scarlet lady, an heroic martyr, but it isn't a glaring fault. I especially liked the fresh perspective of D-day as seen from the villagers eyes.I haven't read anything by Keirnan before, but will look up his two previous novels now.Strongly recommended!
  • (5/5)
    I received this book from early reviewers. I absolutely loved this book. It is set in World War II and these books are always terrifying to me. It is well written and the characters are well rounded. I love how Emma doesn't really mean to be a part of the resistance but she can't stand to see villagers starving, I wish the straw in the bread would have killed the Nazis.
  • (4/5)
    The hope, yes that’s the best part of the book!
  • (5/5)
    The loss and rebirth of hope tells the story of the people of villages caught in the middle of D-Day. I love the heroine's realisation their enemies were victims as well. War had given so many few choices to survive, and everyone compromised to survive.
  • (3/5)
    Set in Normandy during WWII, The Baker's Secret is the story of Emmanuelle, a baker's apprentice, and the people of her small town.
  • (4/5)
    The Baker's Secret is a well-crafted novel set in occupied France in World War II. Emma is a baker that is forced to bake bread for the Nazi soldiers. This is a story of strength, courage and resilience of the people suffering in a small town in Normandy on the eve of D-Day.
  • (4/5)
    The story begins with a prologue on June 5, 1944 in the small town of Vergers on the Normandy coast of France. June 5, as many Americans may know, is the day U.S. General Dwight D. Eisenhower, the supreme commander of Allied forces in Europe, gave the go-ahead for Operation Overlord, the largest amphibious military operation in history. On this day, a large number of vessels took off from England for the trip to France, and hundreds of aircraft filled with parachutists headed for drop zones in Normandy.The next day, the Allied troops landed on the heavily-fortified French coastline to fight with the Nazis who were occupying France. Although the cost in lives was high (more than 9,000 Allied soldiers dead or wounded), the Allies were able to gain a foot-hold in Europe at last. The Normandy landings have been called the beginning of the end of war in Europe.Emmanuelle, known as Emma, is a 22-year-old who has been running the town’s bakery ever since the Nazis killed the original (Jewish) proprietor under whom she apprenticed, known to all as “Uncle Ezra.” The German Kommandant in the area ordered Emma to provide him with twelve loaves of bread a day for him and his staff, and alloted her flour for that purpose. She decided to grind in enough straw not to affect the taste, but to stretch the flour to make fourteen loaves, giving her two each day to disseminate surreptitiously to the starving villagers.Eventually she is bartering in all sorts of contraband within a network of friends struggling to stay alive. But there are collaborators with the Nazis in the village as well as those who do what they can to resist. Emma and some other resisters are finally exposed and caught on June 5. Whether any or all of them will survive till the end of the day is uncertain. And even if they do, and the Allies make it through the barricades, why would they help these villagers with nothing to gain from them?Evaluation: This is an excellent story about the privations of the French during WWII, and the way the occupied nations responded. You won’t want to put it down.
  • (5/5)
    This is a well written fictional account of a Normandy village enduring two years of Nazi occupation. It speaks to the horrific treatment of civilians caught in the web of war, the choices one makes for personal survival and the enduring spirit to render justice in an unjust world. The bread baker is the heroine of the story. Her actions sustain her village and deliver hope to the least among them. Author Stephen P. Kiernan, spent much of his writing career as a journalist honing his craft and has become a fine and renowned writer of fiction. The emotional condition of his characters comes through clearly; one is transported in time and experiences the setting with all five senses. I look forward to reading more books by this very talented writer.Synopsis (from book's cover):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—by enabling them to care for one another, by being a model of dignity and defiance, and by helping the villagers survive should the Allies ever come.As a brutal Nazi captain begins to uncover her network, and the intricately woven web of resistance and subterfuge starts to unravel, the people of Vergers find their bonds tested as never before. Ultimately Emma, facing potential execution, displays a courage and strength of will that shows them all a path to redemption.