4 out of 4 stars
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“When I want to feel connected to my dad, I have a slice of cake.” A Baker’s Daughter: Recipes & Memories From a Bakery by Marcy Brenner & Kristin Donnan is a testament to the unifying power of food. Half narrative and half recipes, readers are invited to uncover one family’s journey that began half a world away in Poland. The authors, friends since childhood, collaborated on their experiences with Max Brenner, Marcy’s father, who had a passion and exuberance about baking that he shared with all who knew him. Hardworking and industrious, Max left a legacy of recipes, an example of devotion to family, and an inner strength that earned him the title, “the sweetest man in the world.” Though her father and grandfather had a more simplistic and practical approach to baking, Marcy grew up with a more sensual and ardent experience with the family business.
With a Jewish background, the Brenner family is no stranger to adversity and tragedy. Although Max Brenner’s family was able to escape the genocide in Europe, many family lines abruptly ended as relatives disappeared. A prominent and powerful theme in this book is Max’s ability to treasure his family, both with their physical needs and their emotional well-being. Memories of her father are described here in detail, and much is shown to us by what he does, rather than what he says. The variety of his whistles, his experienced hands on her youthful ones as she learned the secrets of kneading bread, and his reaction to his mother’s death had profound effects on Marcy’s life. Photographs, letters, and of course plentiful family recipes fill the pages of this book, adding an element of nostalgia to the narrative.
The best part about this book is the characterization and the authors’ ability to display the emotional connection between Marcy and her father. What love and admiration radiate from every page! This is not only done with words, but in thoughtful metaphors and sensory details. One poignant example of such skillful descriptions is the memory of the clanging of keys as they banged against the metal and glass, announcing Max’s arrival at the bakery. To young Marcy, these keys “released the cinnamon-sweet, fruity, almost beer-infused aroma” that would become etched into her memory. The most compelling and intriguing part of this story is what is left unsaid at the time. As Marcy’s discoveries lead to a genealogy project, she discovers a defining family history that becomes an undercurrent that nurtured the family and blessed the community around them.
There is nothing at all that I disliked about this book. The stories were simple, yet powerful. Even the photographs display a playful family atmosphere, and the page numbers cleverly dangle with bakery items from the top of each page. For the skillful characterization, sensory details, and evocation of vicarious emotion, I give this book 4 out of 4 stars.
The book is exceptionally well-edited and had no errors. I recommend this book to all readers of every age. Readers will, at the very least, leave this book with a smile at the Brenner family’s journey through adversity. Not every reader will run to the kitchen to try their luck at baking bread, but all will be inspired by the family’s passion, the love they have for each other, and the opportunities that await those who pursue the American Dream.
A Baker’s Daughter: Recipes & Memories From A Family Bakery
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