The story begins with a prologue on June 5, 1944 in the small town of Vergers on the Normandy coast of France. June 5, as many Americans may know, is the day U.S. General Dwight D. Eisenhower, the supreme commander of Allied forces in Europe, gave the go-ahead for Operation Overlord, the largest amphibious military operation in history. On this day, a large number of vessels took off from England for the trip to France, and hundreds of aircraft filled with parachutists headed for drop zones in Normandy.
The next day, the Allied troops landed on the heavily-fortified French coastline to fight with the Nazis who were occupying France. Although the cost in lives was high (more than 9,000 Allied soldiers dead or wounded), the Allies were able to gain a foot-hold in Europe at last. The Normandy landings have been called the beginning of the end of war in Europe.
Emmanuelle, known as Emma, is a 22-year-old who has been running the town’s bakery ever since the Nazis killed the original (Jewish) proprietor under whom she apprenticed, known to all as “Uncle Ezra.” The German Kommandant in the area ordered Emma to provide him with twelve loaves of bread a day for him and his staff, and alloted her flour for that purpose. She decided to grind in enough straw not to affect the taste, but to stretch the flour to make fourteen loaves, giving her two each day to disseminate surreptitiously to the starving villagers.
Eventually she is bartering in all sorts of contraband within a network of friends struggling to stay alive. But there are collaborators with the Nazis in the village as well as those who do what they can to resist. Emma and some other resisters are finally exposed and caught on June 5. Whether any or all of them will survive till the end of the day is uncertain. And even if they do, and the Allies make it through the barricades, why would they help these villagers with nothing to gain from them?
Evaluation: This is an excellent story about the privations of the French during WWII, and the way the occupied nations responded. You won’t want to put it down.
Published by William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins, 2017