When I was 11, I read “The Diary of Anne Frank” for the first time. I’d been an avid reader since I first learned my ABCs, but as I absorbed the firsthand story of an open, honest, kind girl whose star burned out far too soon, I realized for the very first time just how powerful words on the page could be. This, I thought to myself, is what writing is all about.
Anne’s story stuck with me, and I read the book again and again throughout my teenage years. As a teen myself, I could identify with so much of what she had to say, but I also found it very difficult to come to terms with the horrifying fact that in the not-so-distant past, an entire system of government had seen fit to snuff out her light – and the lights of 6 million other innocent people.
As I got older, every story I heard about the Holocaust resonated within me, because I felt a special kinship with the girl from the secret annex. Moved by the power of her words, I knew I wanted to write books that could inform and inspire people too. For the first several years of my career, as I moved from my mid-twenties into my early thirties, I wrote novels that endeavored to deal with deep issues in engagingly light ways, and I named a minor character in each of them “Anne.” But I always dreamed of writing something deeper, a book that would address the Holocaust in a way that would be true to Anne Frank’s vision of the world.
Finally, with the release of my seventh novel, THE SWEETNESS OF FORGETTING, that dream has come true for me. In the book, the main character, Cape Cod bakery owner Hope McKenna-Smith, discovers that her grandmother has a secret past buried in Holocaust-era Paris. “I must know what happened,” her grandmother says before sending Hope to France, armed only with a list of names and a few cryptic clues. “And so, now, must you.” As the mysteries of the book unfold, Hope learns the heartbreaking truth about what became of the family she never knew existed. Every day, as I wrote, I thought of Anne Frank, whose picture hangs above my desk.
Anne’s diary opened the eyes of the world. Nothing could equal the raw power of her true story, but I’m hopeful that the Holocaust tale woven into the pages of THE SWEETNESS OF FORGETTING will, at the very least, make you stop and think. I also hope that this piece of the novel – and the discoveries Hope makes about her grandmother’s surprising religious background – will remind you that as human beings, we’re all in this together. Anne’s diary has sold more than 31 million copies in 67 different languages, proving the universality of her words. But it’s more than just her words that are universal. It’s the hopes, dreams and basic human instincts that belonged to her – and that indeed belong to all of us as we move through life.
Religious tensions are on the rise again in our world, and in the face of all of that, I think that it’s all too easy to forget that we have more in common than we have separating us. “It is mankind that creates the differences,” Hope’s grandmother tells her.
I hope that THE SWEETNESS OF FORGETTING makes you reflect on that simple truth too and leaves you with a feeling of hope. “Where there’s hope, there’s life,” Anne wrote. “It fills us with fresh courage and makes us strong again.” So I hope you’ll enjoy the book, remember the lessons of our past, and move with courage into your future, in search of happiness, strength and love.
We’re giving away a copy of THE SWEETNESS OF FORGETTING to one lucky reader. Leave a comment on this post if you’d us to toss your name in the hat.
Hope McKenna-Smith, divorced mother of a surly not-quite-teenage girl, runs her family bakery on Cape Cod, but is starting to wonder what might have been. What if she hadn’t abandoned her dreams of law school? What if she hadn’t quit her job to raise her daughter? What if she hadn’t caught her husband cheating on her with a cliched blonde bimbo? When her aging grandmother, Rose, summons her to hear a long-held secret, Hope finally has the opportunity to stop thinking “what if?” and start thinking “what now?”
Rose’s memory is ebbing rapidly due to the onset of Alzheimer’s, and she knows she doesn’t have much time left to tell Hope the truth about a secret she’s kept for seventy years. Giving Hope nothing but a list of names, Rose sends her on a journey of discovery that takes Hope to a synagogue and a mosque in Paris, to a history buried in the Holocaust, and to a long-lost love with secrets of his own.
The Sweetness of Forgetting is a story of family, love, honesty…and baked goods.
About Ariel Lawhon
Ariel Lawhon is the co-founder of She Reads, novelist, blogger, storyteller, and life-long reader. She lives in Texas with her husband and four young sons (aka The Wild Rumpus). Ariel believes that Story is the shortest distance to the human heart.