[Review] The Sweetness by Sande Bortiz Berger

Posted 23 September, 2014 by DLWhite in Reviews, Writers Read 0 Comments

The Sweetness Book Cover The Sweetness
Sande Boritz Berger
Historical Fiction
She Writes Press
September 23, 2014
NetGalley/SheWrites Press

Vilna 1941. An inquisitive young girl asks her grandmother why she is carrying nothing but a jug of lemons and water when they are forced by the Germans to evacuate their Vilna ghetto. "Something to remind me of the sweetness," the wise woman tells her, setting the theme for what they must remember to survive.

Set during World War II, the novel is the parallel tale of two Jewish girls, cousins, living on separate continents, whose strikingly different lives promise to converge. Brooklyn-born Mira Kane is the talented eighteen-year-old daughter of a well-to-do manufacturer of women's knitwear in New York. Her cousin, eight-year-old Rosha Kaninsky, is the lone survivor of a family abroad exterminated by the invading Nazis. Yet, unbeknownst to her American relatives, the orphaned Rosha did not perish. Desperate to save his child during a round-up, her father thrust Rosha into the arms of a Polish Catholic candle maker, who hides her─ putting her own family at risk.

The headstrong Mira, who dreams of escaping Brooklyn for a career as a fashion designer, finds her ambitions abruptly thwarted when, traumatized at the fate of his European relatives, her father becomes intent on safeguarding his loved ones from all threats of a brutal world. Everyone must challenge his injurious and spiraling survivor guilt.

Though the Kanes endure the experience of the Jews who got out, they reveal how even in the safety of our lives, we are profoundly affected by the dire circumstances of others. Like The Book Thief and Those Who Save Us, The Sweetness is a poignant portrait of life during a most tragic time in history.

I was just saying the other day, how I liked historical fiction but that I preferred it be set in the US and not during War Time. So to say that I was intrigued by the blurb to this book speaks to the allure of this story. I was invited to read this book by the Publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

The Sweetness is a poignant look into the lives of two girls, cousins who live worlds apart, both in distance and lifestyle. Mira is the daughter of a well-t0-do Jewish businessman in Brooklyn, New York. Rosha is orphaned and secreted away in a root cellar with the prayer that the Nazi soldiers in her native Vilna will not find her.

The story is told from multiple points of view but the lion’s share falls to Mira and Rosha. The differences between the cousins could not be more polar opposite. Mira worries about finishing her fashion design degree and Rosha worries about the people who have risked their lives to hide her and if Poppa and Bubbe will come back for her. With only photos and  a few mementos to keep her company, Rosha suffers through seasons and sad times while Mira meets and marries the man of her dreams.

The Kane (formerly Kaninskly) family is large and loud and loving. The closeness  between Mira and her Aunts, who left Poland many years before the Nazi invasion, is palpable through the pages, most especially when dealing with Jeanette and her illness.

There were a few things I thought were convenient, like Mira naming a child Rosh, after the cousin who, they supposed, had died many years ago, however at few points in the book did I feel that Mira felt any particular closeness or heartfelt sadness about the loss of her cousin. Certainly, she commiserated with her father and her aunts, but then it was not mentioned again until she decided to name her third child. It seemed a convenient vehicle, to me.

Overall, I enjoyed reading this book and traveling back to Brooklyn/Poland in the 1940’s. The imagery was vivid, the descriptions rich, most especially of Mira’s designs. A deeply poignant, stirring novel. If you enjoy historical fiction and Jewish history and fiction, I think you will enjoy The Sweetness.

Comments are closed.