Author Post – Ariella Cohen
There were many inspirations for Sweet Breath of Memory, the primary one being my mother. Mum’s a gifted writer and one of her poems appears in the novel. Her advice and love have shaped my life and I owe her far more than the book’s dedication can convey. An optimist who sees opportunity in challenge (“Never say die”), Mum’s oft-repeated advice is, “Stretch your eyes.” Sometimes, she’s reminding me to appreciate the beauty of Nature, others to see beyond the obvious. Most often, that trinity of words is a plea that I look toward the horizon, for its rosy glow – enticing and yet so out of reach – always kindles hope. Sweet Breath of Memory explores how seeking distant horizons helps us heal from loss. That healing is best affected in a community – of family, friends, animals or – well, it’s different for all of us. Just as each loss is unique.
When we meet the novel’s protagonist, Cate, she’s a reluctant healer. A war widow plagued by guilt, Cate’s world has contracted without the love of her life. She embraces this closing in of spirit as a punishment of sorts. Only after moving to the fictional town of Amberley, does Cate begin to stretch her eyes. Amberley is the ideal setting in which to recover and rebuild, for its tree-lined streets don’t call to mind happy memories or black-edged ones. Amberley is neutral ground – neither stained nor tinted by the past.
It was challenging to write a character who feels less than three dimensional. Cate is more attuned to echoes of who she was than the woman she may become. In her mind, she barely casts a shadow. To balance this, the novel’s opening chapters introduce some larger-than-life characters whose stories soon intertwine with Cate’s. As the narrative unfolds, Cate finds her footing and moves center stage – in her mind and on the page. By the time she sets out to discover who she is independent of her marriage, she has become the capital “P” protagonist. This rebuilding of her life is hard work and Cate likens it to a construction project of sorts, albeit a frightening one because every step she takes forward is a step away from what she lost. I took Mum’s advice to heart when describing Cate’s journey, for her gradual development from sepia-toned to full-blooded woman necessitated stretching my writing eyes. And seeking – always seeking – that distant horizon.
Two final notes on Mum. The book’s cover image celebrates some of her favorite things – wild daisies, peaches, petunias and lavender. And the novel will be in the shops June 28th – two days after her 91st birthday.
About this book
Life is in the telling.
With its tree-lined streets, vibrant downtown and curbside planters of spring bulbs, Amberley, Massachusetts, seems a good place for Cate Saunders to start over. It’s been two years since her husband, John, was killed in Iraq and life has been a struggle. Her new job as a caregiver doesn’t pay much, but the locals are welcoming. In fact, Cate has barely unpacked before she’s drawn–reluctantly at first–into a circle of friends.
There’s diner-owner Gaby, who nourishes her customers’ spirits as well as their bodies; feisty Beatrice, who kept the town going when its men marched off to WWII; wise-cracking MaryLou, as formidable as Fort Knox but with the same heart of gold; and, Sheila, whose Italian grocery is the soul of the place. As Amberley reveals itself to be a town shaped by war, Cate encounters another kindred spirit–a Holocaust survivor with whom she feels a deep connection. When revelations about John’s death threaten Cate’s newfound peace of mind, these sisters-in-arms’ stories show her an unexpected way forward. And Cate comes to understand that although we suffer loss alone, we heal by sharing our most treasured memories.