I sometimes worry that I am emotionally dysfunctional. The reason I say this is because I rarely ever cry while reading an emotional novel or watching a sad movie. However, while reading "The Sweetness of Forgetting" by Kristin Harmel, I found myself crying and getting caught up in the whirlwind of a beautiful and haunting story.
Hope McKenna, a 36 year-old divorcee and single mother of a pre-teen, runs her family's bakery, making the sweet treats her grandmother taught her when she was a kid. She needs to keep the bakery going, especially now that it's under financial threat and her grandmother has Alzheimer's. When, in a moment of lucidity, her grandmother gives her a list and tells her to go to Paris, Hope brushes off the suggestion, much to her daughter's chagrin. Then she begins to learn new truths about her grandmother's past and realizes that a trip to Paris is a necessity. There she learns more about her grandmother and what happened during the period of the Holocaust. In doing so, she also learns valuable lessons about opening herself to the possibility of love.
As I was reading "The Sweetness of Forgetting," aspects of it reminded me of "Sarah's Key" by Tatiana DeRosnay and "Winter Garden" by Kristin Hannah. I kept thinking that this idea has been done before and could become cliché. However, Kristin Harmel tells this story in such a way that it stands out on its own. She knows how to bring out the right levels of emotion at just the right moment, allowing for readers to really "feel" what is going on. Her characters are written with such depth that it's easy to forget that they're only fictional. The emotional connections made throughout the story are priceless. I recently learned that Kristin has some Jewish roots in her family, but was not raised Jewish herself. However, she captures the feelings from the Holocaust in such a way that you'd think she had been around during that time. I could tell that she really did her research! I liked the level of detail she used in her descriptions, making everyone and every place easy to visualize, but also allowing readers to use their imagination. I could smell the treats cooking at the bakery, and appreciated all the recipes she included! (She even has an additional recipe e-book available to everyone who spreads the word about "The Sweetness of Forgetting!")
The only minor concern I have is that things wrap up a bit too nicely throughout the novel. Hope seems to have an easier time than most people would, in tracking down the names on her grandmother's list and making other connections. Other things also seem to fall in place for her too easily, taking away her goals of working hard to get what she wants. Even so, I wanted her to succeed in her mission and get all the answers that were available. And aren't stories supposed to have happy endings? That's what her grandmother seemed to believe!
The entire time I was reading this novel, I couldn't stop telling family, friends, and readers of our Facebook page how much I was loving it. This is only the second book of Kristin's that I've read, but I can't wait to read her others! I think Kristin Harmel has a real winner on her hands and I wish her all the success in the world with it!
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