Usually when I read Jodi Picoult, it's a selection by someone in my book group. I recognize that she tackles a lot of controversial or current topics.She also tends to throw readers a curve ball at the end of most of her novels. (Excuse the mixed metaphor there.) This book, though, particularly caught my attention since I am starting this week to team teach the Holocaust class offered at the college where I work. This is either the third or fourth time I've been involved with the course. As we plan the syllabus, inevitably the challenge is what to leave out, since there are so many books, poems, movies and more.
In this novel, she weaves a story with three interlocking lines--at least three. The main character Sage (with sisters named Saffron and Pepper. Seriously.) is a young single woman working the graveyard shift as a baker in order to avoid people. She has a facial scar, the result of a car accident that led to her mother's death. Obviously, some of her scars are invisible. At her grief group she forms a friendship with an elderly man, whom she learns was a Nazi officer during WWII. The second story line is that of her grandmother Minka, the daughter of a baker and a survivor of Auschwitz. She also has created a Gothic fairytale, putting her in the role of Sheherazade in the camps.
Into the mix Picoult adds the married man with whom Sage has conducted a relationship after he served as undertaker for her mother's funeral. The unlikely hero of the story is a young agent working to locate former Nazis and bring them to justice.
At times readers may find Sage a character unlikely to elicit sympathy. I can't say that I always liked her--or believed her. I did want things to work out for her. Some of the secondary characters were caricatures--one of Sage's co-workers who speaks only in haiku. (Technically, since he only adhere's to syllable count, his lines would be senryu). Her boss is a former nun. The other members of the grief group also seem a little over the top sometime.
The best part of the story, I believe, is Minka's story. Picoult has evidently researched her topic carefully. The young German officer, while evil, seems believable in light of historical accounts.
Picoult has a natural audience for her fiction, and in this case, she deals with a period of history that can't be ignored. She certainly led me to investigate further a story in which I am now about to be immersed for another semester.