The Baker’s Secret

Written by Stephen P. Kiernan
Review by Kristen Hannum

Emma, 22, is the baker with a secret. She lives in occupied Normandy in the months and hours leading up to the June 6, 1944, D-Day invasion, and finally through the invasion itself.

Author Stephen Kiernan tells his sometimes heartbreaking story with a quiet elegance, almost Buddhist in its matter-of-fact yet moving episodes of Nazi brutality and the courage of the French townspeople in the resistance. That resistance, for some, is made up of actual sabotage and collaboration with the Allies. For others it’s survival in the face of injustice. An important part of the story is that Emma does not believe that there will be an end to the occupation. She doesn’t believe the Allies will come. Even so, she puts as much finely ground straw as she can into the flour with which she bakes the Nazi commandant’s dozen loaves of bread, thereby baking fourteen instead of twelve loaves, and being able to daily give bread to the neediest townspeople. Like Jane Austen’s famous Emma, she also connects people and solves problems—finding rationed fuel for a fisherman who can then make extra trips to sea, for instance, thus augmenting the people’s food supply rather than turn his entire catch over to the Nazis. So although Emma resolutely refuses to let herself hope, she daily offers hope to her fellow villagers.

This book, although set in a heartbreaking time, is ultimately uplifting, and readers don’t need to wait until the book’s ending for that. The triumph of the spirit moves throughout its pages. No matter how many World War II novels you’ve read, don’t miss this exquisite story.