After I discovered a few beach reads from author Kristin Harmel, I was delighted to interview the author on her upcoming novel The Sweetness of Forgetting coming out August 7 from Simon and Schuster. A bit of a change of tone and pace from her typical novels, Harmel took me on a touching journey with deeper, more emotional characters.
The Sweetness of Forgetting is a lush, heartwarming novel about a woman who travels to Paris to uncover a family secret for her dying grandmother—and discovers more than she ever imagined.
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.
Q: This book is different from your others. How so?
A: When I wrote my first book at the age of 24, nine years ago, chick lit was a very natural fit for me. It was what I was reading at the time, and of course I’m very much of the Sex and the City generation: Being compared to Carrie Bradshaw was—and still is—a huge compliment for me! Now I’m 33, and as I’ve grown up a bit, my tastes in writing and reading have changed, too. I still adore chick lit, and I like to think that my novels still have a heart that reflects my chick lit roots. But most of what I read these days is more mainstream fiction, books that dig a little deeper, so I think it only makes sense that that would be the kind of book I’d be drawn to writing, too. While my previous novels have dealt with women who are struggling to find themselves, so to speak, The Sweetness of Forgetting deals in weightier subjects with a woman’s search for her own identity still at the core. But instead of searching for meaning among movie stars, or her friends, or in exotic adventures, she’s searching within her own family history, and deep within her own heart. It’s a story of family, and the things that make or break us, and the things that shape us. It also explores bigger issues like the Holocaust and slowly losing a loved one to Alzheimer’s. Plus, it has nine original recipes! I think this is really a big transition for me, and I’m really proud of this book.
Q: It seems like you love Europe. What is it about Europe that makes it a draw for your writing? Personal experience?
A: I adore Europe. I lived in Paris during the summer of 2002, and I go back at least once a year. I feel more inspired there than anywhere else in the world. But in the case of this book, I didn’t set out to write about Europe, necessarily, but because this was a novel with its roots in Holocaust history, Europe was an inevitable part of the equation. I’ve been wanting to write a story that includes the legacy of the Holocaust for years now, and after discovering Paris’s unique connection to that time period, the story began to develop in my mind. Learning that Muslims helped Jews escape Nazi persecution in World War II Paris—which is a fact that plays a role in The Sweetness of Forgetting deals—really inspired me, and so Paris, the city closest to my heart, became the heart of the story.
Q: Tell me about Chubby Checker! What was it like working on a project with him?
A: He’s one of the nicest people I know. He’s become more than a coworker; he’s become family. Truly, I love him with all my heart. If you ever have a chance to go see him in concert, GO!!! He’s an enormously talented performer, and you may even have the chance to go up on stage and do the Twist with him! How cool is that?
Q: What do you find is the most challenging part of the writing process?
A: I think it’s very hard to settle on the right idea, and on how to tell the story in the right way. In the case of The Sweetness of Forgetting, I’ve had the core of the story in my mind for years, but it took me a few tries to get the details exactly right. I feel so, so good about the way the story finally came out. It’s been a great lesson in patience, and in learning to believe in myself.
Q: What is your (can be short) opinion of the publishing world today? It’s changed so much in the last decade.
A: Indeed, it’s a whole new world. But I think it’s very exciting. The rise of ebooks has changed the whole landscape of publishing, but I think it’s a good change. Having books so readily available electronically helps the industry to appeal to a whole new generation of readers, and I think that any development that encourages a love of reading is a good thing.