Thursday, 28 March 2013

Book review: The Sweetness of Forgetting by Kristin Harmel

My edition: Paperback, published on 28 March 2013 by Quercus, 461 pages.

Description: The North Star Bakery has been in Hope's family for generations, the secret recipes passed down from mother to daughter. But at thirty-six and recently divorced, with rebellious daughter Annie and elderly grandmother Rose to care for, Hope is less than enthusiastic about carrying on the family legacy. When the bakery runs into financial trouble and Rose takes a turn for the worse, Hope's delicate balancing act is in danger of crumbling entirely.

Then Rose reveals a shocking truth about her past and everything Hope thought she knew about her family and the bakery is turned upside down. At her grandmother's request, Hope travels to Paris, armed only with a mysterious list of names. What she uncovers there could be the key to saving the bakery and the fulfilment of a star-crossed romance, seventy years in the making.


Rating:

Review:

The Sweetness of Forgetting is a powerful piece of both contemporary and historical storytelling that does not gloss over the hardships of losing family, love and everything you have ever known about yourself. Yet there is also a hopeful side to the story as the characters within discover it is never too late to turn things around and focus on what is truly important in life; your own happiness.

The novel tells the story of three generations of strong women: Rose who came to America from France during WWII and founded the North Star Bakery using the sweets and pastries from her youth in Paris as an inspiration, her granddaughter Hope who is currently running the bakery and is trying to cope with her recent divorce and the loss of her mother, and Hope's daughter Annie who at 12 years of age is wise beyond her years and plays a central role in the family and the running of the bakery.

Rose is suffering from Alzheimer's disease and is often confused when receiving visitors, but one clear moment she presents Hope and Annie with a list consisted of seven names. Rose explains that the people on the list are her family and she wants Hope to go to Paris to find out what has happened to them. As all the people on the list have the last name Picard and Rose's maiden name is Durand, Hope initially thinks the list was written during a moment of confusion and disregards it as not important. But as her daughter and a family friend insist it's worth looking into, she soon uncovers a family secret that has been hidden for decades and which may not only change what she knows about Rose but also what she has always known and thought about herself.

Because of the book's cute cover I expected the story to be along the lines of Jenny Colgan's recent novels; a sugar sweet chick-lit filled with delicious recipes. And while there's certainly plenty of mentions of delicious baked goods in Kristin Harmel's novel - with instructions on how to recreate them in your own kitchen - as well as a blossoming romance, the main story is much more reminiscent of Jojo Moyes' touching and intriguing storytelling.

The Sweetness of Forgetting is an immensely sad yet also beautiful love story that spans decades and generations, while uncovering the history of a little known form of resistance during WWII. Hope's discovery of Rose's time hiding in Paris was certainly not something I was familiar with but it is an extraordinary piece of history and reading about it gives me hope that there were, and are, genuinely good people out there who take care of others regardless of religion or status.

While the book had me on the verge of tears for most of the final chapters the beautiful story of courageous people selflessly helping strangers left me with a warm feeling in my heart as I turned the final page. Besa, indeed.


Many thanks to Quercus for a review copy of the novel!

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