Thursday, September 11, 2014

The Sweetness, by Sande Boritz Berger

She Writes Press, ISBN 9781631529078, September 2014

In the years after World War One, the older Kaninsky brothers leave their home in Riga, Latvia, and emigrate to New York. Charlie and Louie, now Kane, eventually go back and persuade their sisters, Rena and Jeannette, to join them in America. Their youngest brother, Mordecai, does not. Instead, he moves his small family, and their parents, to Vilna, Lithuania. It's a fateful decision.

When the Second World War starts, the choices made are irrevocable. We follow Mira Kane, Charlie's 18-year-old daughter, and Rosha, Mordecai's eight-year-old daughter. Mira is the daughter of prosperous businessman Charlie, owner of a knitwear business, safe, secure, and dreaming of a career as a fashion designer.

Rosha is the daughter of a Jewish family in German-occupied Lithuania.

The Kanes are devastated when they learn through Charlie's contacts that Mordecai's family has met the fate of so many Jews, rounded up, marched into the forest, and killed. What they don't know is that Rosha has survived. Mordecai thrust her into the arms of a friend, Polish candlemaker Marta Juraska. Rosha is hidden in the family's basement.

As Charlie struggles with survivor's guilt, Mira with the way her dreams are constricted and changed by the war, and Jeannette with  depression and what we'd now call PTSD, the Juraska family and little Rosha navigate the dangerous waters of Nazi-controlled Vilna, hoping just to survive.

This is a beautifully rendered tale, with wonderful, gentle insight into the characters and their struggles. I just could not stop reading.

And there's a wonderful payoff at the end.

Recommended.

I received a free electronic galley from the publisher via NetGalley.