How Sweet It Is!

by Thane Rosenbaum (USA)

Set in Miami Beach, Florida in 1972, the novel follows the Posner family, comprised of Holocaust survivors Sophie and Jacob, and their son Adam.  The Posners do everything they can to avoid one another in a city with an infinite supply of colorful diversions. In 1972, Miami beach was the site of both the Republican and Democratic political conventions and saw the rise of the counterculture, the Cold War, and the desegregation of the old South.

The novel is enriched by the presence of historical characters like Jackie Gleason, Frank Sinatra, Muhammad Ali, I. B. Singer, Meyer Lansky and a comical crew of fading gangsters.  There is even a sighting of Fidel Castro.  For these two Holocaust survivors and their son, Miami Beach was to be their salvation. Where better to blend in, regain one’s sanity, and live their lives? Instead what they discover is that Miami Beach is not a place of camouflage - all that sunshine highlighted the very things they wished to forget.  All that abundant sun turned their lives into a Disney World of funhouse mirrors and chaotic rides, giving them a front row seat through a transformational year in American culture, politics and world history.

"Fans of the greater Miami megalopolis rejoice! Finally there's a novel that nails your part of the world!" –Gary Shteyngart, author of The Russian Debutante's Handbook and Absurdistan

"How Sweet It Is! plunges its fictional character into the thrilling, dangerous and often absurd world of Miami in the 70s, and as a result the readers get to experience the historical events as if from the inside. It’s that rare book that manages to be both intensely informative and huge joy to read." –Lara Vapnyar, author of There Are Jews in My House and Memoirs of a Muse

THANE ROSENBAUM is the author of novels The Stranger Within Sarah SteinThe Golems of GothamSecond Hand Smoke, and Elijah Visible. His essays appear frequently in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, and Huffington Post. A Senior Fellow at New York University School of Law, he is the author of Payback: The Case for Revenge and The Mythof Moral Justice: Why Our Legal System Fails to Do What’s Right

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By Thane Rosenbaum

1) Explain how Miami Beach in 1972 was a transformational year for both the city itself and the members of the Posner family.  Does it appear from the novel that the city was even aware of these changes at the time?  How has Miami changed since 1972?

2) Each member of the Posner family experiences Miami Beach differently.  Discuss Sophie’s, Jacob’s and Adam’s experiences in and relationship to the city.

3) The novel is constructed of interlocking short stories.  Why do you think the author chose to tell the story this way?  Did it make a difference in the way you read or understood the novel?  What are the advantages/disadvantages of telling a story in this fashion?

4) Similarly, the stories do not seem to unfold in chronological order, and in some cases they conflict with each other.  What does that say about the use of time as a plot device in telling a story?

5) What specific themes does the author emphasize throughout the novel? What message do you think he is trying to get across to the reader?  Does the introduction of historical characters enhance these themes or distract from them in any way?

6) In a review of the novel in The Times of Israel the reviewer writes that the author believes “if the Holocaust is as ‘unspeakable’ and ‘unimaginable’ as people say it is, writers should not try to normalize it.”  What do you think this quote means and how does Rosenbaum express this sentiment in his novel?  Does the use of humor and absurdity help in making this point?

7) There are many historical characters that make an appearance in this novel – Meyer Lansky, Jackie Gleason, Frank Sinatra, Muhammad Ali, Isaac Bashevis Singer, and even Fidel Castro.  Who is your favorite and why? 

8) Because this is a novel of historical fiction, does it matter to you in any way that the use of these characters, in the setting and context, is completely fictional?  Do you feel that fiction writers should be able to use famous people in this way?

9) The Counter Culture plays a big part in the novel.  Is there any irony in having hippies and anti-war protesters descend on Miami Beach?

10) Crime plays a role in the novel – the Jewish Mafia, the Watergate Plumbers, the drug-addled hippies using Central Park as a refuge, the murder of the Israeli athletes in the 1972 Munich Olympics.  How do the Posners react to such activities and does that have anything to do with why Sophie rises to become the consigliere of Lansky’s crime syndicate?

11) Jackie Gleason, Meyer Lansky and Frank Sinatra are drawn to Sophie – emotionally and perhaps even romantically.  Why, in particular, would this trio develop feelings for a damaged but resourceful Holocaust survivor?

12) There is irony in Rabbi Sheldon Vered’s friendship with Muhammad Ali.  What is this irony and how can it be explained in the context of this novel?

13) HOW SWEET IT IS!  is, in many ways, a novel about second chances.  Identify to whom these second chances apply.  Do any of the characters succeed in taking advantage of their second chance?

14) Back in 1972 Meyer Lansky believed that only legalized gambling could save Miami Beach back from its decrepit hotels, aged population and general decline.  It took several decades, but Miami Beach not only came back, but it has succeeded far beyond what Lansky could have ever imagined.  How did it do that without even having to rely on legalized gambling?

15) Fidel Castro seems to make a cameo appearance in HOW SWEET IT IS!  Of all the historical characters in the novel, only he, Muhammad Ali and Don Shula are still alive.  Now that the United States is normalizing its relationship with Cuba, isn’t it amazing the way the Cold War played itself out in Miami Beach?  Miami Beach and Cuba are both islands in the tropics.  What else do they have in common, other than Meyer Lansky once running a criminal empire in each location?


October 2016 | 208 pp.
978-1-942134-01-5 | Paperback | $16.95

May 2015 | 208pp.
978-1-942134-00-8 | Jacketed cloth | $24.95
978-1-942134-02-2 | E-Book | $9.99