Oh my, I haven't read a Picoult book for a while! I had forgotten how she can twist a plot and turn a phrase to simply make your hair stand on end and take your breath away. Once I cracked this one open I did not want to put it down and when made to, I couldn't wait to pick it up again. In a way this book reminded me of Yan Martel's Beatrice and Virgil (a highly recommended book) which is also a story cloaked within another story with shades of WW II Holocaust thrown in designed to make the reader be horrified and mesmerized at the same time.
Sage Singer has followed a family tradition of being an excellent baker. At only 25, she lives fairly reclusive following an accident that disfigured her face and killed her mother. Her weekly visits to her grief support group help and it is there she befriends an older gentleman who also frequents the bakery where she works. Josef Weber always orders the same thing which he shares with his beloved dachshund and when he and Sage begin to converse she learns of his feelings of loss since the death of his wife. He has lived in their town for over 50 years, is a beloved retired high school teacher and a much-respected neighborhood volunteer. Sage enjoys Josef's company and his stories until the day he asks her to help him die.
Sage makes it clear that she will not ever participate in any such thing, pointing out moral and legal issues. She tries to distance herself from him. Not one to give up, Josef persists. He continues seeking her out and talking to her, and then he indicates that when she knows who he really is she will desire to help him. Most readers who have retained any history will know where he is trying to go with his stories. As his stories progress the darkness builds, the fear permeates every new chapter, and Sage's heart begins to ache not just for herself anymore.
Throw into this scenario the fact that Sage has a close relationship with her grandmother, Minka who is a Holocaust survivor and a great storyteller (who may or may not have known Josef), her boss is a former hippie-type nun, and her lover is a married funeral director! Enter the ever useful Department of Justice NAZI-hunter agent for a love interest and what else could a reader want I ask you?
The stories are all so intricately woven, creating a beautiful webbed network for the reader to unwind. Questions arise as one reads this book, some of which may have no true answers. What is real evil? What is it that creates an evil person? What would one do to protect family? What entails forgiveness? Who can or should be forgiven? Who has the right to forgive, and who does not? Are there truly totally evil people? Can evil people be redeemed?