Wednesday, 17 September 2014

The Sweetness

Author: Sande Boritz Berger
Genre:  Historical Fiction (WWII)
Type: Advanced Reading Copy (ARC)
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: She Writes Press
First Published: September 23, 2014
First Line: "Like most Friday nights, I wait for Poppa by the parlor window."

Book Description from GoodReadsEarly 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."

Disclaimer:  My sincere thanks to She Writes Press and NetGalley for providing me with a complimentary e-book copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

My Review:  Historical fiction is one of my favourite genres, specifically books dealing with the Holocaust.  Told using two narratives The Sweetness follows the lives of two cousins during WWII: Rosha, an eight year old girl from the Lithuanian city of Vilnius and her teenage cousin Mira who is an upper middle class teenager living a very different life in New York. 

This was a much lighter look at the Holocaust and overall didn't seem to have the energy or the emotion that I was expecting.  This stems from the fact that it mainly focuses on Mira and her life in the USA as she tries to make her way in the fashion business and deal with her day-to-day family issues in the garment business.  The differences between Rosha and Mira's lives were unquestioningly glaring in contrast.  You could sense Mira and her family's fear for their relatives overseas as well as the cost to her aunt's mental health but ultimately it left me feeling like Mira's life was much more superficial than Rosha's loss and daily fears.

While this book did give the reader a view of the Holocaust through the eyes of a privileged Jewish teenager in the US, I can't say it was as emotional or riveting as I was hoping.  I can see it being popular with people who want a lighter read involving WWII and how the war affected a Jewish family on two different continents.

My Rating: 2.5/5 stars

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