While floating in a pool during the balmy winter in Miami Beach and gazing up at the palm trees waving in the warm breeze, many a Jew has proclaimed “It’s a mechaya!” which translates from Yiddish to mean “What a pleasure!” or “How sweet it is!” Thane Rosenbaum’s novel How Sweet It Is enters into the magical Miami Beach space in many Jews’ memories. The story digs deeper and parses out that nostalgia in an unflinchingly funny novel of the Posner family — two Holocaust survivors, Sophie and Jacob, and their son Adam — doing everything they can to avoid one another in a city with an infinite supply of colorful diversions. The novel is set in the summer of 1972, when Jewish gangster Meyer Lansky still held forth on the peninsula, bouncing back after returning from Israel as the Jewish nation declined to absorb the avowed crime boss. Other Jewish characters in the book relocate to Miami Beach as much for the sun as to flee the racial conflicts in the northern cities. Rosenbaum’s writing is a joy to read: he takes time to revel in scenes of Jewish delis as well as counter-culture orgies of sunburnt Flower Power political protesters. The coming-of-age tale takes place during the 1972 Republican and Democratic National Conventions. The character of Miami Beach plays a star role in the descriptions of the mingling cultures of Jews, blacks and Cubans. One can almost feel the strangling humidity, smell the fresh ocean air, and taste the babke and onion rolls from the Butterflake Bakery, the sponsor of Adam’s Little League team. How Sweet It Is takes on geopolitics while putting a face on white flight and immigration. In the book, children interpret the battle for interracial harmony through integration as having to wake up at an ungodly hour to travel across town to school, and no longer being the fastest runner in class.
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Dina Weinstein is a Richmond, Virginia-based writer.