Two worlds collide in this book: rural Australia in the 1960s and that of Jews who survived the Holocaust. Tom Hope is a good man who inherited a farm. His wife Trudy left him, then came back pregnant. He discovers a talent for fatherhood when Peter is born. Then she left again - for Jesus Camp run by a tyrannical pastor - taking Peter with her. Tom is bereft, but then Hannah Babel (she speaks many languages) comes to town and sets up the Bookshop of the Broken Hearted. Hannah comes from a lively, intellectual Hungarian Jewish family. She survived Auschwitz, but lost her whole family, including her small son.
Tom helps her set up the bookshop. They quickly become lovers, then marry. From then on, alternate chapters go back in time to Hannah’s post-war experiences and present-day life. What is remarkable is the degree of detail the author constantly gives us. He lets the small explain the large. Tom is very practical. He can fit a spring into a tractor so that reverse gear engages properly. Hannah is vivid, and speaks with that Hungarian cadence of brilliant directness that often includes philosophically resigned cynicism. When the Soviets let Hungarians vote, and the Hungarians didn’t vote for the Communists - well, the Soviets had to put that right, didn’t they? What she, and so many traumatised Europeans endured is unspeakably horrific, of course. Except it is spoken of and we still don’t learn. Hannah’s repugnance of the Vietnam war is not quite understood by the rural Aussies.
The theme of violence recurs in Peter’s treatment at Jesus Camp. He is repeatedly thrashed. After escaping and valiantly finding Tom again, the poor little kid has to go back. Tom has no legal way to keep him, and Hannah can’t open the shadowed recesses of her heart to another child. It looks as though this is going to be a deal-breaker for Tom and Hannah and it is agony that two kinds of salvation love might be incompatible. Peter tries to escape again but is caught. Just as we fear for his life he is saved unexpectedly by an act of his empty-headed mother.
This book is absolutely brilliant at conveying the times, places and cultures it describes. It stares deeply and compassionately into the human condition in a way that appears effortless and supremely readable. Destined to become a classic, I think.
- Format: Kindle Edition
- File Size: 1501 KB
- Print Length: 247 pages
- Publisher: Text Publishing (2 April 2018)
- Sold by: Amazon Australia Services, Inc.
- Language: English
- ASIN: B077RTTTQ3
- Text-to-Speech: Enabled
- Word Wise: Enabled
- Customer Reviews:
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #43,355 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)