Sunday 24 April 2022

The Bookshop of the Broken Hearted

Finished April 21
The Bookshop of the Broken Hearted by Robert Hillman

This novel was one I chose by title alone and it was definitely a surprise. Set in Australia, inland and within a day's drive from Melbourne, most of the story takes place in the late 1960s, either on a small farm, or in the town nearby. There are also occasional flashbacks to one character's experiences during World War II and its aftermath. The main character here, Tom Hope, wakes up to a note from his wife Trudy letting him know that she's left him. This is devastating to him, as he loved her, but looking back he can see that there were signs that she wasn't happy. As she returns and leaves again, the experience leaves him with a child that he finds himself loving fiercely and forming a strong bond with. 
When he loses the child, he is once more devastated, losing himself in the routine of farmwork. Tom has sheep, and fruit trees, and makes enough to get by. 
When he hears of a bookshop opening in town, he is surprised and curious. When he meets the woman who is going to run the store, he finds himself drawn to her. She is Hannah Babel, a Hungarian Jewish woman who survived Auschwitz, but lost her own family. She has done a variety of things since then, but the bookshop is close to her heart. Although older than Tom, she finds herself drawn to him as well, and both of them dare to believe that they have found love. 
As they face emotional and financial barriers, their relationship is stressed and in jeopardy unless they can find a way forward despite their past pain. 
The characters are unique and have their own quirks and outlooks. Tom is a very giving man, one who cares about people and takes disappointment to heart. Hannah has suffered much loss in her life, and is afraid of more. These are characters with histories that are painful, and as they learn to understand each other and trust each other, there is hope that they can find a future together. 
The setting comes alive here, and one can picture the farm and the hills and river. There are many interesting characters besides the two central ones, and I would be interested in learning more about many of them. As the plot brings Tom and Hannah together and threatens to rend them apart again, there are bits of larger stories that influence theirs and add depth. 
A very interesting read. 

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