Reading Group Guide – The Baker’s Daughter
The discussion questions and list of book club activities are intended to enrich your reading group’s conversation about The Baker’s Daughter, Sarah McCoy’s absorbing and compelling new novel. In order to provide reading groups with the most informed and thought-provoking questions possible, it is necessary to reveal important aspects of the plot of this novel―as well as the ending. If you have not finished reading The Baker’s Daughter, we respectfully suggest that you wait before reviewing this guide.
• The epigraph pairs two quotes; the first is from Mark Twain. The second is from Robert Frost’s poem “The Trial by Existence.” Why do you think McCoy put these quotes together? Which characters do you believe they reference?
• The concept of baking, sharing and passing on recipes is woven throughout the book. What are a couple of your favorite family recipes? Have you shared those with your children and/or friends? How have recipes played a part in your own childhood and adult life?
• Epistolary storytelling in the form of letter writing is a vital way the characters directly communicate with one another and express many of their innermost feelings. Do you have friends or family members with whom you frequently exchange letters, cards, or emails, though you rarely see them in person or talk on the phone? If so, do you find yourself being more or less open in those written communications?
• Reba is continuously reinventing herself, trying on new personalities and fictitious lives. Why does she engage in this behavior? Why does she think running away from her family’s problems will help her achieve a new beginning? How do you believe discovering Elsie’s story changed Reba?
• Considering Elsie’s true feelings for Josef, why does she take his gifts, accompany him to the ball, accept his proposal and wear his ring? Why does she pretend to be engaged to him? Do her circumstances make her betrayal right? If you were in her position, what would you have done?
• When Reba finds her daddy’s therapy notes, she wishes she had never read them. She wants to remember him differently. She doesn’t want to believe that the facts are true. Have you ever felt this way about something? Looking back, do you feel remorse or gratitude for the decision you made regarding it?
• Both Elsie and Reba are confronted with the issue of blind obedience. At what point must we question the governing regulations? At what point must we act on our own convictions? Is this a slippery slope?
• Though generations apart, Elsie and Reba are both empowered women. How does this manifest in Elsie’s story? In Reba’s? How does McCoy depict gender roles? How do all the women characters claim or reclaim their power (Mutti, Hazel, Frau Rattelmüller, Jane, Deedee, Reba’s momma, Lillian, etc.)?
• Does Josef’s personal suffering justify his public actions? Do you sympathize with Josef’s struggle between duty to country and his individual feelings? Why or why not? Similarly, how does Riki justify his daily work with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection? Have you ever participated in something you didn’t believe in?
• Collective ownership is a central tenet of the Lebensborn Program. What might you see are positive attributes of communal living? What are the negative? Discuss the importance of personal identity and/or possession to Elsie and society as a whole.
• Do you believe Mutti was right to keep Frau Rattelmüller’s letters from Elsie? Discuss her motivations and the possible outcomes if she hadn’t kept the secret.
• In the Epilogue, Jane gives Reba a recipe cookbook in honor of her “setting a wedding date.” Do you think they followed through? Where do you think Riki and Reba are today?
BOOK CLUB ACTIVITIES
• Ask each book club member to bring a family recipe for a book club recipe swap or a prepared dish for a potluck of family foods. Go around the group sharing the history of each dish/recipe.
• Pull out pretty stationery or a lovely card and write an old friend. Say anything that comes to mind as if he or she were sitting beside you and see what comes to the page. Mail it as a surprise to that individual.
• Elsie and Hazel watched Jean Harlow’s Libeled Lady (1936) as girls. Consider renting the film and hosting a movie night with your book club. How do you see the female starlets resonating in Elsie? How would you cast The Baker’s Daughter as a movie?
• Have a baking party using Elsie’s German recipes from the novel’s Epilogue. Pick one as the theme (say, a Lebkuchen Bake-off) or try them all.
Author Sarah McCoy has a significant online presence. Visit her website at SarahMcCoy.com to read her bio, find out about upcoming events, see photographs of Germany, and try more The Baker’s Daughter recipes not included in the book. You can also follow her on Twitter (@SarahMMcCoy) and Facebook.