Sage Singer is a baker. She works through the night, preparing the day’s breads and pastries, trying to escape a reality of loneliness, bad memories, and the shadow of her mother’s death. When Josef Weber, an elderly man in Sage’s grief support group, begins stopping by the bakery, they strike up an unlikely friendship. Despite their differences, they see in each other the hidden scars that others can’t, and they become companions.
Everything changes on the day that Josef confesses a long-buried and shameful secret—one that nobody else in town would ever suspect—and asks Sage for an extraordinary favor. If she says yes, she faces not only moral repercussions, but potentially legal ones as well. With her own identity suddenly challenged, and the integrity of the closest friend she’s ever had clouded, Sage begins to question the assumptions and expectations she’s made about her life and her family. When does a moral choice become a moral imperative? And where does one draw the line between punishment and justice, forgiveness and mercy?
In this searingly honest novel, Jodi Picoult gracefully explores the lengths we will go in order to protect our families and to keep the past from dictating the future.
“If history has a habit of repeating itself, doesn't someone have to stay behind to shout out a warning?”
― Jodi Picoult
I am a bit at loss of words as the Storyteller’s story unfolds in the middle of the novel. I have read a few WWII novels and even though the characters are fictional, the story of each single life lost during the holocaust deserves its own written account. And Minka’s strory is aching my chest.
“What is the point of trying to put down on paper emotions that are too complex, too huge, too overwhelming to be confined by an alphabet?
Love isn't the only word that fails.
Hate does, too.”
― Jodi Picoult
Minka is Sage Singers grandmother, a holocaust survivor, and she does not appear in the novel as a main character until 2/3 parts into the book. Sage is a baker with heart and soul. She is a bit of a hermit, and baking at night suits her just fine. There in the bakery alone at night, she can continue to bake and spread baked goods made with the recipes passed down to her by her Jewish family. Every week she brings treats to a grief group that she attends to cope with the loss of her mother.
Josef, always with a notebook in hand, also attends the grief group. He is in his 90’s and mourns the loss of his wife. Sage and Josef begin an unlikely friendship. They meet for chess games and walks with the dog. We learn that Josef has been an outstanding member of the community. He taught at school, volunteered a lot and coached kids. However, he has a lot of personal baggage that is weighing him down and he makes an unusual proposition to Sage that changes her and his life forever. Will she give in to his request?
“Inside each of us is a monster; inside each of us is a saint. The real question is which one we nurture the most, which one will smite the other.”
― Jodi Picoult
This novel is set in 3 parts. Sage, her life and meeting Josef. Minka telling her story. And Sage’s changes after Josef’s proposition and her grandmothers story.
To me part 1 and 3 were almost not necessary. Minka’s story was so engrossing and harrowing, it would have made a lone standing novel in itself about the accounts of living during WWII as a Jewish family, deportation to camps, loss of friends and family, and recounts of working almost to death and escaping it. I consider the other parts more fluff, but I will give credit for the twist at the end that was cleverly woven in.
This book has been highly praised and I can see why. Part 2 of the novel is a 5+star read. I would consider the other parts a 3 star and therefore I am settling on a 4 star rating.
The novel is definitely sticking with me. I would reread part 2 again after I take a breather and switch to a bit lighter reading. So if you are interested in a heart wrenching story, this one is for you!