How to Find Sweetness in Lemons: Book Review of The Sweetness by Sande Boritz Berger

The Sweetness by Sande Boritz BergerTitle: The Sweetness

Author: Sande Boritz Berger

Genre: Literary Fiction

Copyright: 2014

Publisher: She Writes Press

Pages: 301

ISBN: 978-1631529078

I received a free copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

In the debut novel, The Sweetness, author Sande Boritz Berger illustrates how the world can go to shambles yet hope remain strong. Two parallel story lines evolve in the novel. Roshe Kaninsky stars in one and Mira Kane, Roshe’s American cousin, owns the other. The time period is World War II. And while Roshe hides from the Nazis in the basement of a courageous family for the duration of the war, across the Atlantic, her cousin Mira, who lives in wealthy comfort, carps about having to quit design school and work for her family’s company. Berger contrasts the two lives forcing an examination of the influence of luck and hope in life.

The simple luck of my birth in the U.S. shields me from the grief and struggle that men and women endure in Ukraine, Afghanistan, South Sudan, and elsewhere that conflict disrupts and sometimes destroys aspirations. The Sweetness by comparing Mira and Roshe’s struggles emphasizes how easy it is to forget the plight of others and in the absence of similar difficulty to think that our own issues are grand and troublesome.

Berger titled and themed The Sweetness after a scene of exodus that happens near the beginning of the tale. In the scene, Roshe’s family prepares to leave Vilna, their hometown. Most of Roshe’s neighbors flood into the street carrying their belongings and like her neighbors, young Roshe hefts a sack of her belongings on her back. When Bubbe, Roshe’s grandmother catches up with Roshe Bubbe is carrying only  a jar of lemonade. Roshe asks Bubbe why she isn’t carrying anything else. Bubbe responds: “This is all I need my Rosha. Something to remind me of sweetness.” Roshe argues back that lemons are sour and her grandmother answers, “True, true, mein kind, but only by tasting lemons are you sure to remember sweetness.” Bubbe’s wisdom weaves through both Roshe and Mira’s narratives.

Dichotomic themes reverberate in literature and serve to remind us of the need for opposition in our lives. As Herman Melville wrote in Moby Dick, “There is no quality in this world that is not what it is merely by contrast. Nothing exists in itself.” We must have evil to appreciate good, light to know dark, and love to feel hate. The truth that The Sweetness offers is a reminder of the beauty of the contrast. And while my lucky lemons may never taste as sour as people who live in war torn villages, I can always choose, like Bubbe, Roshe, and Mira, to remember that the sweetness of lemonade is only possible because of the lemons.

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