Friday, May 29, 2015

Sande Boritz Berger: tasting THE SWEETNESS through the eyes of two Jewish girls separated by an ocean during World War Two.

Christal Rice

article with excerpts 2,060 Words

Tasting The Sweetness

“I gave it the title The Sweetness for the irony. The grandmother carries only a jug of lemons and water when the family is forced out by the Nazis. The child, confused, asks why.  Her answer is: only by tasting the bitterness of lemons will you remember better times.”
Sande Boritz Berger

In Sande Boritz Berger’s recent novel The Sweetness, two Jewish cousins, 7-year-old Rosha Kaninsky (modeled after Berger’s 2nd cousin by the same name) and 18-yr-old Mira Kane (modeled after Berger’s own mother) are separated by an ocean and continent.

Rosha lives in Vilna, Lithuania, hiding in a root cellar from the Nazis; and Mira lives with her immigrant parents Charles and Ina, older brother Roy, two aunts Rena and Jeanette, and Uncle Louis in a well-to-do neighborhood in Avenue T in Brooklyn, New York. 

Mira Kane dreams of becoming a fashion designer in Hollywood, and dressing the famous movie stars of the day including Carole Lombard and Rita Hayworth. 

She attends New York City’s Rockefeller Institute of Design with her best friend Faye, who also dreams of designing for the famous stars of Hollywood. 

Her dreams are crushed when she is betrayed by her father Charles Kane, who owns the successful Kane Knitting, whom the entire family, except for Mira’s mother, is employed by. 
Mira finds true love and has a chance to make her dreams of becoming a fashion designer come true, despite living in a generation where women who had careers were frowned upon. 

She also finally discovered the little girl she knew existed….Rosha, and always wondered if she were alive.

     “Vat is dat shana?”  “Oh, I’m studying fashion design.”  The woman stared at her blankly, so Mira referred to her outfit, sweeping her delicate fingers along the buttons, then gesturing to her own  trim waistline.  Still no response, so Mira unzipped her portfolio and the woman shimmied in closer.  Their heads touched slightly as they looked through the several sketches in Mira’s book.  The woman reached out and ran her pinky over one of the drawings.  Most were of attractive young women all wearing Mira’s designs.  Some actually resembled Mira, especially those wearing beauty marks placed precisely on the left check.  The fashions themselves were upscale and elegant, not what anyone would expect emanating from an eighteen-year-old’s imagination.  Mira had used her palette of paints to simulate fabrics like shiny satins and textured velvets.  Her brush strokes were so fine that she managed to create the illusion of fur trim along a sweeping dolman sleeve.  She used sparkles of silver and gold glitter to indicate beading.  
     Her teachers had constantly showered her with praise, and some of their notes were written in the far corners of the sketches:  “Spectacular, Mira!”  or “Mira, no doubt you have a future in couture.”
     Without hesitation the woman leaned over and planted a slightly moist kiss on Mira’s check.  The gesture felt so genuine that Mira was immediately overwhelmed with pride.  
     Again, the woman spoke, and although Mira didn’t understand a single word of what she was saying, she could tell by her exuberance that the woman was impressed, and so, to be respectful she nodded her appreciation enthusiastically.

Excerpt from The Sweetness

Copyright granted by Sande Boritz Berger

Rosha’s existence is almost mundane – she is a little girl living in a darkened root cellar, never able to see the light of day or commune with her own people. 

She, like Mira is a dreamer, except this little girl doesn’t dream about fashion or stardom, but about her Poppa coming to the Juraska home to take her back to her own home and family. Unbeknownst to Rosha, her grandmother Bubbe and her parents are never coming back, all having reached an unimaginable end at the hands of the Nazis.  

Rosha finds some solace in her doll with blonde braids, and tries to mark the passage of time by writing the number of each day with a fork on the wall behind her cot.  

Rosha finds hope in the white wooden shelves the Juraska family built for her, where she props up photographs of her family with stones.  One of the photographs is of a beautiful, black-haired girl named Mira.
The novel begins with 7 year Rosha old looking out the window, waiting for her beloved father to return.

Like Most Friday nights, I wait for Poppa by the parlor window.  Leaning against the pane where someone recently threw a fistful of stones, I run my fingers along the spidery break.  Bubbe looks up from her crocheting (she is making a wool cape for me in this heat) and scolds.  She warns me to move away from the window.  There is such fright in her voice that all the hairs on my arms stand straight up.  Yet still I don’t budge.
“They might see you,” Bubbe says, “no matter what Rosha, you must not let them see you.”
But because I am not certain who it is that may be watching me, and Bubbe’s words create even more curiosity, I take one more peek.
“I am watching for Poppa . . . what is the harm?”

Excerpt from The Sweetness
Copyright granted by Sande Boritz Berger

Berger was born in Brooklyn and raised on Long Island’s south shore by a traveling salesman father (like Nathan) and a mother who dreamed of being a fashion designer (like Mira) but gave it all up for wifehood and motherhood.  

Berger wrote her first creative piece when she was seven years old in protest of the birth of her second brother, making her the only girl:  “I stood on a chair and wrote little complaints on my rose-patterned wallpaper.  My mom had just had another baby – another boy.  I wanted a sister.”

Berger always wanted to be a writer and considered writing her first love:  “I knew I was a writer when I realized that every birthday from the time I was a young girl, I composed a letter about what it was like to be that particular age.”

       Berger also wrote about the loneliness, sadness, and depression she experienced being reared in a family that had so many family secrets – secrets that they refused to talk about:  “I felt there was so much more that I didn’t know.  I guess that void was enough to create a certain sensitivity in me that eventually led me to want to unravel the truth.”
Berger received her BS in Education and Minor in English from Oneonta State University, a college in upstate New York.

Berger taught English to fourth and sixth graders in Montgomery County, Maryland.

Berger had two daughters Jennifer and Bari, 18 months apart.  She became a divorced mother while the children were still very young, and once again, Berger found solace in her writing:  “Poetry is what kept me sane when I was a young mother. I would write poems stopped at traffic lights.”

She pursued other career avenues in the Advertising and Marketing arena in New York City; and became the President of Videowave, working as a scriptwriter and video/film producer for Fortune 500 companies.

After twenty years, she decided to close her business and take the big plunge and earn her MFA in Writing and Literature, at Stony Brook Southampton College, graduating in December of 2009.

 “I’d heard great things about the program and it was conveniently located near my home.  The faculty members were well known writers who were extremely generous with time and knowledge.  It was a gift to have such an opportunity.”

Her first creative piece published was her short story, “A Light From The Beach,” in a college literary review titled Reflections.  
Her thesis consisted of many short stories, which would later make up her debut novel The Sweetness, earning her The Deborah Hecht Memorial Prize in Fiction.
“I wrote The Sweetness in parallel stories between two protagonists and on two separate continents.   I’d worked on Mira’s story almost exclusively for years, never knowing about the other young girl Rosha. 
When I learned about my family’s history I began another shorter tale (Rosha’s story) that I then merged with the first (Mira’s story).”

Berger knew there was something about her family history that was a mystery, until, one December day in 1999, she made a routine lunch visit to her Aunt Irene, 99 years old, at her tiny studio apartment in Brooklyn.

Her Aunt Irene gave her niece a round metal cookie box full of documents, letters, telegrams, and photographs – one in particular of her second cousin Rosha, who is the little girl on the cover of The Sweetness.

 “It wasn’t until she passed away that I began writing my story. It was Rosha’s story, which I eventually alternated with Mira’s story, which was nearly completed. And it was through the merging of those two parallel tales that a theme finally became clear to me.”

Berger spent many hours late at night reading the testimonies of actual Vilna ghetto events and Nuremberg trial documents.
She also read books that helped inspire her writing in The Sweetness:  Those Who Saved Us by Jenna Blum; Night by Elie Wiesel; Call It Sleep by Henry Roth, and the works of Jonathan Safran Foer.

Berger wrote The Sweetness in a variety of coffee shops and diners, which is strange because she hates being indoors.
The writing was emotional, especially since most of The Sweetness is factual and inspired by true events that happened in her own family.  The most difficult and emotional scene to write from The Sweetness was when Rosha and her father are separated during the round up of the Jews by the Nazis.
       “I felt my heart beating so fast as I wrote it and he ran with the girl through the ghetto.”

 Come here my darling girl,” Poppa says, scooping me up into his arms, holding me, his duffel bag, and mine.  Mama presses her fingers into my cheeks and kisses me on my lips.  Hers taste like salt, another opposite of sweetness.  Then Poppa takes off weaving in and out between people.  Just like the little baby, Friedlich, I stretch out my arms toward Mama, and stop my crying.  I will go anywhere with Poppa, anywhere he wants to take me.
The soldiers do not see Poppa who starts running in the direction of the marketplace toward Mrs. Juraska.  All the time he is reciting a prayer, and in between the words:
Baruchi Atoi Adonai, he whispers my name, as if it were something really good, something sweet and sacred.
Mrs. Juraska holds a crumpled sheet in front of her as if she were to hang it out do dry.  “Please, please,” are the last words I hear my father say.  He places me in the candle maker’s damp fleshy arms, turns, and is gone.

Excerpt from The Sweetness
Copyright granted by Sande Boritz Berger

It is the candle maker, Mrs. Marta Juraska, that Berger identifies the most in The Sweetness – the Catholic wife who saves Rosha by hiding her in her root cellar for years.
“My message and her selflessness is what I aspire to and what I hoped readers would identify with, though I lived in many other characters as well for a time being.”

“Please child, don’t cry.  Don’t you remember me?  Marta Juraska, the candle maker,” she said over and over again, while she carried me in her arms.  She had wrapped me in a pile of damp sheets that felt rough and scratchy against my face.  My body was pressed tightly against her big bosom.  So tight, I could smell the salty sweat as it poured from her neck and the stinky odor from her armpits that reminded me of soured milk.
She moved quickly, like a zebra running through the jungles of Africa.  I remember that above all the loud commands and sirens that would not stop, all I heard was the sound of the candle maker’s heart.  It beat faster and faster as she ran, pulsing through her big bones and soaked skin, drumming into my ears and muffling everything.

Excerpt from The Sweetness
Copyright granted by Sande Boritz Berger

The Sweetness, which Berger dedicated to her four grandchildren and grandparents, is published by She Writes Press and was released on September 23, 2014.

       The Sweetness is full of truth and fact; but the ending is somewhat different from reality.  In fact, some readers wonder:  What happened to the real Rocha?
       “No one knows what happened . . . so I hope that she is alive somewhere in her 80s enjoying life.”
       Presently Berger resides in Manhattan and Bridgehampton with her husband of 40 years Steve. 

She is also taking a short hiatus from writing in order to focus on marketing The Sweetness:  “I look forward to mornings and late day writing again soon.  I’m not strict about meeting my muse, sometimes, she comes with me shopping.”

Photograph Description And Copyright Information

Photo 1
Web logo photo of Sande Boritz Berger
Copyright granted by Sande Boritz Berger

Photo 2
Jacket cover of The Sweetness

Photo 3
Girl Holding Lemons
Painted by William Adolphe Bouguereau in 1899
Public Domain

Photo 4
Sande, age 6, standing by her mother Manette Duchin Boritz
Copyright granted by Sande Boritz Berger

Photo 5
Vilna, Lithuanian ghetto
Public Domain

Photo 6
Sande Boritz Berger standing in front of her Grandparents home on Avenue T in Brooklyn, New York, the same house that the Kane family resides in The Sweetness.
Copyright granted by Sande Boritz Berger.

Photo 7
Picture taken in 1935 of the house on Avenue T. Brooklyn.  Sande’s aunts and uncles, grandmother in center, and mother kneeling. This porch was the gathering place for family and where some of The Sweetness enfolds.

Photo 8
1940s photograph of young woman walking in New York City.
Public Domain

Photo 9
Carole Lombard
Public Domain

Photo 10
Rita Hayworth
Public Domain

Photo 11 and 12 
Fashion drawings by Sande’s mother, Manette Duchin Boritz
Copyright granted by Sande Boritz Berger

Photo 13.
Jacket cover of The Sweetness

Photo 14
Root Cellar in the home of Yonah Steiner in Poland where he hid until he was found by the Nazis and sent to Auschwitz.
Public Domain

Photo 15
Synagogue burning in Vilna, Lithuania
June 1941
German Federal Archive
Public Domain

Photo 16
Ana McGuffey Doll in 1937
Fair Use Under the United States Copyright Law

Photo 17
Display of numerous copies of The Sweetness at a bookshop
Copyright granted by Sande Boritz Berger. 

Photo 18
Sande’s parents Nathan Boritz and Manette Duchin Boritz
Copyright granted by Sande Boritz Berger

Photo 19
Sande Boritz Berger’s third grade classroom photo. 
Sande is 6 years old since she skipped a grade. 
Front row, fifth from right
Copyright granted by Sande Boritz Berger.

Photo 20
1960s photograph of Sande and her two brothers, Marv and Randy Boritz.
Copyright granted by Sande Boritz Berger 

Photo 21
Sande Boritz Berger while attending Oneonta State University
Copyright granted by Sande Boritz Berger. 

Photo 22
Sande and her father Nathan Boritz at her first wedding
Copyright granted by Sande Boritz Berger.

Photo 23.
Sande with her two daughters Bari and Jennifer on Mother’s Day 1972.
Copyright granted by Sande Boritz Berger.

Photo 24
Sande Boritz Berger in New York City in the 1980s.
Copyright granted by Sande Boritz Berger.

Photo 25
Web photograph logo for Stonybrook Southampton College
Fair Use Under the United States Copyright Law

Photo 26
Frank McCourt and Sande Boritz Berger.  Sande was Frank McCourt’s assistant while attending Stonybrook Southampton College to pursue her MFA.
Copyright granted by Sande Boritz Berger.

Photo 27
Some of the family photographs Aunt Irene gave to Sande in 1999. Copyright granted by Sande Boritz Berger.

Photo 28
Sande as a little girl with Aunt Irene and her husband, Fred Klaber
Copyright granted by Sande Boritz Berger

Photo 29
More photographs and papers Aunt Irene gave to Sande on that day in 1999.
Copyright granted by Sande Boritz Berger.

Photo 30
Rosha Duchin in 1941
Copyright granted by Sande Boritz Berger

Photo 31
Sande’s mother, Manette Duchin Boritz
Copyright granted by Sande Boritz Berger

Photo 32
Jacket cover of Those Who Saved Us 

Photo 33
Jacket cover of Night 

Photo 34
Jacket cover of Call It Sleep 

Photo 35
Winners of the 2006 Moment Magazine Fiction Contest.  Sande Boritz Berger, second from right, Jonathan Safron Foer, far right. 
Copyright granted by Sande Boritz Berger.  

Photo 36
Box full of copies of The Sweetness
Copyright granted by Sande Boritz Berger

Photo 37
jacket cover of The Sweetness 

Photo 38
Web logo for She Writes Press
Fair Use Under the United States Copyright law

Photo 39
Sande Boritz Berger, second from right, with other writers She Writes Press 

Photo 40
Sande and her husband Steve Berger.
Copyright granted by Sande Boritz Berger

Photo 41
Sande at her home in Bridgehampton
Copyright granted by Sande Boritz Berger

No comments:

Post a Comment