Sage Singer is a baker, a loner, until she befriends an old man who's particularly beloved in her community. Josef Weber is everyone's favourite retired teacher and Little League coach. One day he asks Sage for a favour: to kill him. Shocked, Sage refuses—and then he confesses his darkest secret – he deserves to die because he had been a Nazi SS guard. And Sage's grandmother is a Holocaust survivor. How do you react to evil living next door? Can someone who's committed truly heinous acts ever atone with subsequent good behaviour? Should you offer forgiveness to someone if you aren't the party who was wronged? And, if Sage even considers the request, is it revenge…or justice?
My words cannot even begin to do justice to this novel, nor do I have the eloquence to honour those whose story mirrors this one.
All the way through this extraordinary book, I kept repeating like a mantra, this is just a story; this is just a story –
This. Is. Just. A. Story.
But of course, this isn't just a story, is it? It is based upon a universal truth which is made all the more shocking by being shrouded in reality, and whilst I can't begin to understand what it was like to live with terror, pain, hopelessness and loss on such a grand scale, what I can acknowledge is that simple acts of kindness are what make us human.
The dual themes of forgiveness and redemption which snake through this novel are expertly achieved. Sage Singer, vulnerable and lost in her own grief, befriends, Josef, an elderly German who visits the bakery in which she works. It is an unlikely friendship, made all the more implausible by the request Josef makes of her, a request which will have repercussions, not just on Sage but on those she loves.
There have been lots of comments about this being the best of Jodi Picoult’s books to date, and I have to wholeheartedly agree. There is the usual fine attention to detail, the sharply observed social nuances and the fly on the wall feeling of occupying the same time and space as the characters, but where she excels this time, is in the narration of the story which is woven like a tapestry into several strands, all of which are equally compelling.
My thanks to my lovely friend Anne for passing this story to me - I shall pass it on to someone else.