The Sweetness of Forgetting

The Sweetness of Forgetting

by Kristin Harmel


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A baker in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, must travel to Paris to uncover a family secret for her dying grandmother—and what she learns may change everything. The Sweetness of Forgetting is the book that made Kristin Harmel an international bestseller.

At thirty-six, Hope McKenna-Smith is no stranger to bad news. She lost her mother to cancer, her husband left her for a twenty-two year old, and her bank account is nearly depleted. Her own dreams of becoming a lawyer long gone, she’s running a failing family bakery on Cape Cod and raising a troubled preteen.

Now, Hope’s beloved French-born grandmother Mamie, who wowed the Cape with her fabulous pastries for more than fifty years, is drifting away into a haze of Alzheimer’s. But in a rare moment of clarity, Mamie realizes that unless she tells Hope about the past, the secrets she has held on to for so many years will soon be lost forever. Tantalizingly, she reveals mysterious snippets of a tragic history in Paris. And then, arming her with a scrawled list of names, she sends Hope to France to uncover a seventy-year-old mystery.

Hope’s emotional journey takes her through the bakeries of Paris and three religious traditions, all guided by Mamie’s fairy tales and the sweet tastes of home. As Hope pieces together her family’s history, she finds horrific Holocaust stories mixed with powerful testimonies of her family’s will to survive in a world gone mad. And to reunite two lovers torn apart by terror, all she’ll need is a dash of courage, and the belief that God exists everywhere, even in cake...

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781451644296
Publisher: Gallery Books
Publication date: 08/07/2012
Edition description: Original
Pages: 368
Sales rank: 35,012
Product dimensions: 5.52(w) x 8.04(h) x 0.94(d)

About the Author

Kristin Harmel is the international bestselling author of a dozen novels including The Book of Lost Names, The Winemaker’s Wife, The Room on Rue Amélie, and The Sweetness of Forgetting. Her work has been featured in People, Woman’s Day, Men’s Health, and Ladies’ Home Journal, among many other media outlets. She lives in Orlando, Florida.

Reading Group Guide

This reading group guide for The Sweetness of Forgetting includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.


To say that Hope McKenna-Smith’s life hasn’t turned out quite the way she planned would be an understatement. At thirty-six, she’s a law school dropout, a divorcée, the owner of a nearlybankrupt bakery in a Cape Cod tourist town, and the caretaker of her beloved, Alzheimer’s-stricken grandmother, Mamie.

When Mamie suddenly presents Hope with a list of names and urges her to travel to Paris to find these mysterious strangers, Hope nearly dismisses the request as yet another one of her grandmother’s delusions. But when she decides to take a chance on the unknown, Hope embarks on a trip of a lifetime; one that will take her both through Mamie’s haunted past and through her own journey of self-discovery.

Topics & Questions for Discussion

1. Readers first encounter Mamie when she is sitting by her window at l’heure bleue waiting for the stars to come out as she does every day. Why is it so important for Mamie to gaze at the stars every evening, and what do the stars come to symbolize? Why does she name her bakery after the North Star?

2. Describe Hope’s relationship with her daughter Annie at the beginning of the novel. How are they similar? How are they different from one another? How does their relationship change over the course of the novel? How does their quest to discover Mamie’s past affect their relationship?

3. In contrast to Mamie and Jacob’s belief in love at first sight, Hope has resigned herself to the idea that she will never find true love. How and why does Hope’s attitude to love change throughout the novel? How do her interactions and conversations with the men in the novel—Gavin, Alain, and Jacob—serve to change how she feels about love? Do you believe in love at first sight?

4. How does food serve as a bridge between cultures and characters throughout The Sweetness of Forgetting? What memories and traditions are baked into Hope’s creations, and how does baking help her preserve the past? What does Hope gain when she learns about the unexpected origins of her creations, particularly the Star Pie?

5. Describe Mamie’s belief in God, prayer, and religion. How difficult do you think it was for her to hide her true religion over the years, and how does it change her as a person? How was she was able to maintain her Jewish faith while practicing as a Roman Catholic for so many years? Of the differences between religions, what do you think Mamie means when she says: “It is mankind who creates the differences. That does not mean it is not all the same God”?

6. As Mamie struggles to remember her past, Hope meets people like Olivier Berr who help fill in the ever-expanding holes in her grandmother’s memory. How does Hope’s newfound understanding of Mamie’s past help her make sense of her own upbringing and family troubles? Why do the people that Hope meets feel compelled to preserve such a painful history? What do you think would be lost if Hope was not able to find the people who played a role in Mamie’s story?

7. Do you think that Mamie should have told Josephine about her past (or told Hope earlier)? Why or why not? What would you have done if you were Mamie? What impact does keeping such a monumental secret have on Mamie, and on future generations?

8. Elida White introduces Hope and Annie to the Albanian word besa, the act of taking care of those in need. In addition to the Muslims who took in Mamie during World War II, how do the characters of the novel practice besa toward one another? Why is it so difficult for Hope to accept that others want to take care of her, particularly Gavin?

9. How does Hope’s relationship with her mother influence how she raises Annie? What does it mean for Annie and Hope to grow up with such strong and independent women as their mothers, and fathers who are largely absent from their lives?

10. Why is it so important for Hope to keep the North Star Bakery in business? What would be lost if the bakery closed?

11. Hope grew up listening to Mamie’s fairy tales, but she never imagined that the stories were anything but fantasy. What purpose and meaning do the stories serve for the storyteller—Mamie—and the listener—Hope, and later Annie? How does Hope’s understanding of the stories shift as the novel progresses? How do these stories impact Hope’s views on love and fate?

12. Discuss the ending of the novel. Were Mamie and Jacob’s sacrifices for one another worth the suffering that they endured in the end? How does their reunion personally impact each character? What does Hope learn from Mamie’s final letter, and how does it allow her to move forward with her life?

Enhance Your Book Club

1. Bake a treat for your book club using one of the North Star Bakery recipes . . . or make something that reflects your family’s heritage! If you have Irish ancestors, make soda bread, or if your family is from Greece, try your hand at baklava! For more ideas and recipes, visit

2. Test your memory skills by playing a game of “Memory” with your book club members. All you need is a standard fifty-two deck of cards. Shuffle the cards and lay them on a flat surface in a square pattern face down. On each turn, a book club member must select two cards. If the cards match, the player keeps the set and takes another turn. If the cards do not match, return the cards face down and move on to the next book club member’s turn. Visit for the full rules and suggestions for how to make the game more challenging! Discuss with your group how it felt to actively try to remember when playing the game. Were you ever frustrated?

3. Consider attending a religious or spiritual service that differs from your own beliefs with your book club members. Discuss what was similar to what you are accustomed to, and what was different. Did you learn anything from your visit? Did it raise any questions about your own beliefs?

Customer Reviews

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The Sweetness of Forgetting 4.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 80 reviews.
mimiJG More than 1 year ago
Had a hard time putting this one down!  It is a fantastic book of life loved and lost and found again!  Very well written.  Best book I have read in ages.  If you need soul searching, pick up this book.  Pass it on to everyone you know!
Jeffismom More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed this book. My mother suffers from dementia, so I could relate to the feelings of the main character when dealing with her grandmother's "good" and "bad" days. I've also spent many years on the Cape, so I enjoyed the setting. I thought the premise was great. Imagine discovering a completely different family history than the one you grew up believing? What feelings of loss would you feel? What would you feel you'd gained? I've read other books by this author and I'm glad she's been able to branch out into another genre. I think you'll like this book (and the food)!
JErwin More than 1 year ago
A novel rich with insight on the plight of those of the jewish faith in occupied France during WWII as told through the research and discovery of a woman tracing her grandmother's roots. Hope McKenna-Smith is an extremely well developed character struggling to balance the aftermath of divorce, an adolescent daughter, a struggling business, and her grandmother's dementia. In less than 400 pages, the author packs in sorrow, joy, mystery, revelation, and profound wisdom. I have enjoyed previous books by Kristin Harmel, but this heads the list as being a compelling read and a story of substance.
VirtuousWomanKF More than 1 year ago
AMAZING!! As I write this review, I find myself overwhelmed in how to describe "The Sweetness in Forgetting" by Kristin Harmel. It is such an amazing read and there are so many aspects of the story that I want to share, that I feel entirely incapable of doing it justice. The book cover and the synopsis, give you the feeling that this is a just another story of a divorced single mother going through "stuff " and, would not have ever been a book I would be interested in if not recommended by author, Sarah Jio. In this case, please don't judge a book by it's cover, although it is beautiful, it is not a good representation of the novel. This is a love story but one of great magnitude and on so many levels...For your fellow man, mother for a child, between man and a woman, for traditions, for family, for your hometown, for the legacies left to you by generations previous and for your faith. It is a story of overcoming the odds and yet losing yourself in the past. It is a story of horrific tragedy and one of sweet saving grace. Words cannot describe the impact this book had on me. I learned so much and it gave me a great many things to really reflect upon....all the makings for a great novel.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Best book ever! What a wonderful story and the recipes were an added bonus. Could hardly put it down.
mommybooknerd More than 1 year ago
The Sweetness of Forgetting moved me to the core. This is probably one of the best books that I have read in well over a year. Harmel is a gifted storyteller that weaves an amazing story with treads of love, hardship, secrets, second chances, heartbreak, baked goods and history. This story will urge you to learn your family's story, to embrace your family's history. I felt like I was on the journey with Hope to help uncover the truth of the past before it was too late. Harmel gives a voice to Alzheimer's through Rose's voice which is an amazing element to this novel. I absolutely loved EVERYTHING about this novel; the title, the cover, the story, the characters and the ending. This story has become a new favorite, by a new favorite author. If I could I would rate it 10 stars!!! I highly recommend it to EVERYONE, especially book clubs!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I read six to eight books a month and have never taken the time to rate a book That's how good this book is--worth every page!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
By far the best ive read in a loooonnngg time! I recommend this book to everyone!! Absolutely loved it! It was so heartfelt!..need tissues!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Won this book before it came out. Its a must read! If you liked sarahs will love this one!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Made me fall in love with this author.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
this was a good book, very touching book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Had me at the very beginning. A good mix of humor, intrigue and romance. Was one of those books that you just can't put down.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I LOVED THIS BOOK you have all the drama and heartache of "sarah's key" combined with an amazing love story What a great story .... I didnt want it to end I will recommend this bookto all my friends WOW !
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. The story was wonderful, moved at a quick pace, and I enjoyed the inclusion of recipes discussed in the book. I liked how the author switched between the main character POV and her grandmother's POV. There were some things about the writing style that were a little quirky for me, but the story was engaging enough that I could overlook what bugged me. I would definitely read more by this author.
whitreidtan on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
When my husband and I got married, we received congratulatory cards and gifts from family members that my husband didn't recognize. Many of these relatives drew family trees on the inside of the card so we'd know where they were on the branches relative to my husband. It's one thing not to know how you are related to someone but it's another thing entirely to find out that your family tree is completely different than you ever knew, that it, in fact, not only has branches you never knew about but reveals your family's history secrets and a heritage that changes everything. Hope McKenna-Smith, in Kristin Harmel's novel The Sweetness of Forgetting, finds just this.Hope is a recently divorced single mother running her family's bakery business on Cape Cod and trying to hold onto the remaining two members of her small family. Her daughter Annie, closing in on the surly teen years, is angry about the divorce and life in general and taking it out on Hope. Her grandmother Mamie is in a care facility as she succumbs to Alzheimer's disease, slipping away by degrees. Fearing that the past she's hidden guiltily for so long will be forever buried in her failing mind, Mamie confronts Hope on one of her lucid days, giving her a list of names and requesting that she find out what happened so long ago in Paris to each of the people listed. But Hope, on the verge of losing the family bakery, doesn't see how she can possibly fulfill Mamie's request. Thinking to do some research from home, she only uncovers more questions, ones that she and Annie agree must be pursued. And so, failing bakery or no, she heads to France to uncover her own roots, a journey that takes her from a Holocaust memorial to a mosque and back in time to the fairy tales about true love that Mamie used to tell her.Told mainly from Hope's perspective, the narrative is also sprinkled with chapters narrated by Mamie. Her chapters show clear signs of her disease, sometimes offering clarity as she wades through memories of her long repressed past and other times showing her confusion in the present. As Hope learns more about her grandmother and an extended family she never knew existed, she also learns about the loss of once in a lifetime love that froze Mamie's heart so long ago, damaging Hope's mother Josephine's ability to love, and causing Hope herself to settle in her life and to cynically question the existence of real, true, and deep love. But this is also a novel of second chances and learning to overcome the damage done by a heart wrapped in ice, of family and the impact of history.Although the women in this novel lament their inability to love, their actions belie their words. They may not be demonstrative but they certainly love each other deeply. Hope's research into her family and their origins and their fates goes surprisingly easily but some of the historical information about the Holocaust victims and the unlikely people who risked their own lives to save others is fascinating stuff. Hope and Mamie are appealing characters, as is secondary character and potential love interest Gavin. Hope's sadness at losing her vibrant grandmother, at her own perceived failures in life, and at her difficulty parenting Annie is authentic and vivid. The baked goods recipes at the start of every chapter sound delectable and, in many cases, presage the content of the chapter well. With their variety giving hints as to Mamie's escape from Paris and eventually leading Hope to the exact people she needs to speak to in order to piece together more of her grandmother's story, they do work cleverly within the narrative but the easy coincidences can stretch credulity a bit and they allow for a very rushed end to Hope's quest for information. Over all though, this was an engrossing, quick read that offers new insight into the damage that war inflicts on down through the generations and the way that love can survive even the most horrific situations.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
nhr3bookcrazyNR More than 1 year ago
Loved this book. Once I started reading, I couldn't stop. I stayed up almost all night reading. I just couldn't put it down. Also, I wish there was a real bakery where I could buy all the great-sounding goodies!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Mmkmkk k mimmmm Mom kkm! we km
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Beautifully written ,and another view on holocaust survivor. Very deep
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great read, teaching about WW2 and different religions throughout the story. I felt it was a bit repetative and some parts were drawn out but it was greatly detailed. I could picture the areas in Paris and NY... and even on the cape where Ive never been but sounds similar to our beach towns. Wonderful fairytail cliche ending without being rediculous. Overall. Worth it!
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