Review of The Sweetness by Sande Boritz Berger

Leah Courtney
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I've always been draw to historical fiction from the World War 2 time period. I can't really say I "enjoy" it because the time period was so harsh and sad. But there is something about it that draws me.

The Sweetness is a novel set during this time. It alternates between the lives of two main characters- a young girl living in Poland and her cousin, a young woman living in New York. From the book's description:

Early in The Sweetness, an inquisitive young girl asks her grandmother why she is carrying nothing but a jug of sliced lemons and water when they are forced by the Germans to evacuate their ghetto. "Something sour to remind me of the sweetness," she 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 ultimately converge.

Brooklyn-born Mira Kane is the 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 in Vilna exterminated by the invading Nazis. But unbeknownst to her American relatives, Rosha did not perish. Desperate to save his only child during a round-up of their ghetto, her father thrusts her into the arms of a Polish Catholic candle maker, who then hides her in a root cellar─putting her own family at risk. The headstrong and talented 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 threats of a brutal world, and all the family must challenge his unuttered but injurious survivor guilt. Though the American 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.

The conditions for Jews in Vilna during the war were terrible. I found an article from the Holocaust museum that relates some of the details of what happened. It is difficult to image what it was like.

The Sweetness is a hauntingly beautiful story. Through the excellent character development, we can feel what it was like to live their lives. Rosha, the young girl, tells her story in first person, while her cousin, Mira's story is related in third person. There are also other characters that we get to know well as the story progresses.

This is not Christian fiction, as I sometimes review. There are a few intimate scenes in the book- not heavy on detail but definitely there. There is also reference to abortion and suicide. The events are definitely disturbing at times. I thought that this helped to communicate the book's theme of the terrible times in which the characters lived.

You won't walk away from The Sweetness feeling happy and cheerful. In fact there were issues unresolved. Because the story is more of an ongoing look at the lives of the characters instead of one dramatic climax with a resolution following, I felt as if I needed more at then end. But I did leave with a feeling of hope. And that, perhaps, is the reason I read books about the Holocaust. Because throughout the horrific event, there are stories of hope, of the resiliency of people and of the kindness of some. That's what The Sweetness made me feel.

I give this one 4 stars and an R rating for content.

Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book for review purposes. All opinions expressed are entirely my own.

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Leah Courtney / Author & Editor

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