A sensuous tale of power, customs, and change.
In the city of Hagen, there stands a church, a prison, a city hall, and a bustling market. But there is—and always has been—only one bakery and one baking family. As Emmi’s debut novel opens, Hans Heckler II prepares a cake for the annual Easter contest, held beneath a spoon-wielding statue of his “grandmother’s grandfather’s grandmother” Margarete. Every year, Hans wins the contest with one of the 10 cakes he serves at his shop. But although each generation since Margarete’s has added a new recipe, Hans feels no compulsion to invent. He likens the family collection to the Holy Bible: perfect and therefore complete. In truth, Hans’ heart lies elsewhere—he longs to be a tailor and is in love with Anika Everhart, the flame-haired beekeeper. To cope with the mundane duties of the bakery, and the “beasts” of the town who shower him with “tongue-flapping adulation,” Hans hires 9-year-old Jonathan Von Brandt. The child loves to bake, but when it becomes clear, after many years, that Hans will never tell him the family recipes, Jonathan quits. Meanwhile, Anika has been quietly baking for herself since she was a child. With Jonathan’s help and her bees’ honey, Anika perfects the Honigkuchen cake, which is so good it brings Prince Goebel to his knees. Twice betrayed, Hans enlists the Rev. Abbing to plot wicked revenge. Like Hagen’s society, Emmi’s debut novel is grounded in tradition. He writes convincingly in the style of a European folk tale, with a timeless setting, a firm Christian underpinning, and just a hint of magic. But like the novel’s main characters, Emmi pushes beyond formula, adding themes that are relevant to contemporary tastes, such as resilience through diversity and the perils of dogma. As in the best modern fiction, characters, not morals, drive the story—and Emmi excels at creating rich, complex people. Hans is vengeful, but his thwarted yen for fashion makes him sympathetic, and even the minor players have depth, presence, and at least one dark secret to thicken the plot.
A many-layered delight.