A remarkable and unusual book that retells an old story in a new way. Awarded five stars on Goodreads.
This novel takes place in a small village in France during World War II, occupied by the Nazis just as Allied armies are about to invade on D-Day. But the Germans and Americans are peripheral characters. The real story concerns the war-weary French villagers just trying to live their lives and survive another day. For some that means tiny acts of retribution. For others, complete collaboration. In telling the village’s story, you get the full story of anyone in times of war.
At the center of the novel is Emma, a cynical but gifted baker with no faith in the future, who steadfastly shoulders the responsible of caring for her mentally-compromised grandmother, Meme. Around Emma are others (the Monsignor, a veterinarian, a cafe owner, a paper pusher to name a few), nearly all women and old men, who struggle desperately and daily with shortages of all kind and pervasive hunger, while occupying soldiers seem to have much more than they need. The beauty of this book is in the smallest details of each person’s life, where we come to understand everything from the value of a single egg to the randomness behind who survives and who does not in wartime.
Despite her cynicism, Emma takes on the job of bartering between her neighbors in an effort to increase everyone’s chances of survival. And in doing so, she becomes her own powerhouse, able to withstand even the harshest treatment. This is a wonderful read, where you will reach deep into the lives of a few memorable characters and find universal lessons about some of the best aspects of our human nature — like courage, friendship, hope, and love.