1941 — Vilna, Poland: Eight year old Rosha Kaninsky’s life is about to change in ways she is ill-prepared to understand. She lives with her father and mother, Mordecai and Ester, and her grandmother whom she fondly calls Bubba. Things had been quite different for several days – she could no longer go to school; she was told to stay away from the windows. But, they were all still together. Then, one morning, Poppa and Mama were packing her things. They woke her very early. Bubbe only had a glass jar with ice and lemon. Upon Rosha’s curiosity, Bubbe says, “This is all I need … Something to remind me of sweetness.” Rosha reminds her grandmother that lemons are sour. Bubbe says, “… but only by tasting lemons are you sure to remember sweetness.” They were walking with many others — soldiers poking them. As soon as he was able, Poppa walked her to the side and handed her to Mrs. Juraska, the candle-maker, and left her.
1941 – New York: The Kaninsky’s had family in the US. The Kane’s had shortened there name upon arriving. They received terrible news that Mordecai, Ester, Bubbe, and Rosha had all been killed by Nazi soldiers. Eighteen year old Mira Kane grieved for the family she’d not seen for several years. She thought especially of little Rosha who she really only knew through photographs. Mira works in her father’s factory, a clothing manufacturer. She has natural talent in the way of fashion design. She wants to continue school for design; she wants to get married; she wants to have children. She wants the American dream.
A heart-breaking story of Jewish family lives being torn apart during WWII. The reader is taken back and forth between Rosha’s confusion and desperation in contrast with Mira’s more comfortable, almost superficial, life. The characters were fictional, but they were so well written, you’d swear they were actual people. You also wouldn’t know by reading this well-plotted story that this is Sande Boritz Berger’s debut novel. If you like historical fiction of WWII and the Holocaust, you won’t be disappointed with The Sweetness. Rating: 4 out of 5.