REVIEW: The Bookshop of the Broken Hearted
The Bookshop of the Broken Hearted by Robert Hillman is a beautiful book full of adversity and love. It’s not an easy novel to read because of its characters’ deep-seated problems, but well worth the time spent to get to the end. I was enamored by the lyrical quality of the writing that painted a picture of Australian farming during the 1960s so mesmerizing and real.
Tom Hope marries a woman who can’t be happy living with him on his farm. Trudy leaves and comes back a year later, pregnant with another man’s child. Tom loves this boy so much that even when Trudy leaves again to live at her religious encampment, he cares for the boy as his own. How can he move forward when Trudy takes back the one thing that matters to him most?
Next, we meet Hannah, a Holocaust survivor. Oh my.
Hannah’s past life is filtered into the story in bits and pieces. Her current joy and light always contradicted by the horrors of her past. I could only hope it would end well for her. I felt deeply for Tom and Hannah. They both went through so much. There’s nothing normal about either one of them, so their stories are intriguing. Even though Tom could be thought of as a boring farmer, he’s curious and caring, plus very inventive and hardworking. I was afraid for them throughout most of the book. Their pasts seemed about to collide and I wasn’t sure they’d survive it.
From the beginning, Tom is a sad man, forced to do what he hates for the love of the women in his life. Hannah is crazy – driven beyond sense by the horrors of the Holocaust. Her loss is inconceivable by Tom and the reader. It’s a sense of the worst is yet to come throughout the novel as Hannah meters out her story.
In-between, we get their story as a couple as they dance around Tom’s disappointments and insecurities, while Hannah tries to hide from her past, hoping that Tom’s love will be enough.
I was torn between wanting to know more and fearing what would come.
Nothing good came out of the Holocaust, except knowing we can’t ever allow that to happen again. Even those spared have a lifetime of insurmountable horror mixed with sorrow from their experience. I don’t think that PTSD has ever been worse for anyone than the Holocaust survivors. I feel it’s necessary to read about it and understand it to retain compassion, but it’s never an easy subject to deal with, as the reader, in a novel.
Shame and sorrow filled me as I read. I was so ashamed of the human race for what they did to so many people. Those who did it are the worst, but those of us who did nothing fill me with sorrow. As crazy as Hannah was, I couldn’t dislike her for what she survived, and was still trying to survive throughout the novel.
Then there’s the religious encampment where Tom’s wife takes her son. That is a whole other story that’s horrifying and shocking. One crisis after another, Tom tries to be steadfast and true to his beliefs, and honor those he loves. He’s not always successful, but he does earn that boys love for life.
This is a literary novel, so those either do or don’t work for me. This one impressed me and held me captive, but it wasn’t all peaches and cream during my reading experience. There were paragraphs of information that seemed arbitrarily placed, not anything to do with the plot or scene I was reading. I started to skim because of it, which makes it hard to review this book fairly without reading it in parts several times.
The end was anticlimactic and abrupt. The first time I read it, I was kind of stunned that it was the last page, so I reread the last chapters to see what I missed. In truth, the last half of the book did not draw me in the way the first half did. That could be because there’s a lot to deal with emotionally in this novel, and sometimes that can overwhelm the reader, when we just want to know what the heck happens next.
Some novels leave a lasting impression whether you thoroughly enjoyed them or not. This is that type of novel for me. I loved the lyrical quality of the writing. Author Robert Hillman has a talent for tales that’s undeniable. Even as I’m finishing this review that I’ve been writing over months of mulling it over, I’ve read parts of the book again. The quality of the writing is what stands out, and I don’t think I mind that I didn’t like how it ended or some of the gruesome things depicted. It’s the journey that I appreciate. I’m happy I read this book and look forward to trying another in the future by this author.
If you love novels about farming and are curious about what it was like in 1960s Australia, The Bookshop of the Broken Hearted illustrates it beautifully with the charm of the people and their dialect. But this book is about so much more. It exemplifies faith, endurance, grief, forgiveness, and the ability to live on, in hope of happiness when everything you have loved is gone.
Review by Dorine, courtesy of TheZestQuest.com. Digital copy provided by the publisher for an honest review. Thanks in advance for following links and sharing this review on social media.
The Bookshop of the Broken Hearted by Robert Hillman
Category: Jewish Historical Fiction
Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons; First Edition edition (April 9, 2019)
Rated 4 out of 5