Cover Image: The French Baker's War

The French Baker's War

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Member Reviews

Trigger warning: one of the main characters is emotionally abusive throughout most of the book.
I really wanted to like The French Bakers Wife by Michael Whatling. The premise sounded so promising. The long winded writing and a self absorbed main character just didn't deliver. It was definitely a unique take on an often written about subject. The son, Frederic, is a bright boy who appears to have autism.  While none of the adults understand what he's struggling with, they seem to understand that he's brighter than he might appear, at first glance, and that he must be protected. The father, Andre', is dealing with a lot and takes it out on everyone around him, especially those who're trying to help. While Emilie shouldn't be there, the Nazis were the ones that forced her to come. I didn't love the ending but it's probably pretty realistic.
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A bakery in France in 1943.  A hidden Jewish women and a women who has disappeared. German soldiers on the streets. A spellbinding story.
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This book took me on a grand emotional journey. From joy to sorrow to confusion and anger, and then back again through them each, <i>The French Baker's War</i> is a beautiful narrative. I smiled at Andre's kindness toward Emilie, cheered at his acts with the Resistance against the Nazis, and felt my eyes well up as I read what happened to Mireille. Stories of the world wars, World War II in particular, tend to focus on the battles and the actual warfare. <i>The French Baker's War</i> takes a different route, showing us the pain and cruelty war inflicts on civilians, on families, on communities; how it turns neighbor against neighbor and friend against friend, shattering towns like porcelain thrown against a stone wall, only for the pieces to be picked up and glued back together into a new shape, sharp edges and all. The hard truth of this book is that sometimes very good people do very good things, selfless, noble things, and in return are punished and committed to suffering. There are no easy decisions for these characters, no choices made without intense consideration.  

The details in this book are vivid, including a paragraph or two describing the construction, assembly, and initial use of the main display case in the Albert's pastry shop. The characters, especially Andre, Emilie, Mireille, and Monsieur Durand, feel fleshed out and complex, as though they had narrated their versions of the events directly to Michael Whatling for his recording in this volume. The way Mireille always says to bake three petit fours so that they will have something sweet to eat, the way Andre manages this, even during the most difficult periods of the story, Madame Monchamp's haughtiness, Gilles's drunken impropriety, they all come together spectacularly to tell an emotional, heartrending story. This book could, and should, be turned into a movie (but an adaptation that is highly faithful to the source material, please!). 

I absolutely recommend this book. I won't say it was the happiest or most uplifting book I've read, but it was certainly cathartic, and well-written. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm off to go buy some petit fours and mille feuille from the Pâtisserie Saint-Léry.
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The French Baker’s War is a wonderful book with an interesting plot that kept me reading.  The characters don’t always do things that are likable, but these are complex people trying to muddle through the situations they find themselves in. Like the quote at the beginning of the book says, “The guilty one is not he who commits the sin, but the one who causes the darkness.” I grew to like them because of the hard decisions they had to make, often ones with no winner.
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