Robert Hillman, who wrote The Book Shop of the Broken Hearted is a new-to-me Australian author.
The story follows Tom Hope, a farmer from somewhere up in central Victoria during the late 1960s and early 1970s. The story began with Tom’s wife Trudy running away because she was bored with Tom and the farm, only returning a year later because she was pregnant with another man’s child. Trudy eventually ran away again, leaving Tom to bring up three-year old Peter.
Tom and Peter were mates. I loved reading about Peter as a young child shadowing Tom all over the farm, helping and asking Tom questions which he seriously considered before answering to the best of his ability. Their relationship reminded me of my own father and of my childhood growing up on a farm.
Both Tom and Peter’s hearts were broken when Trudy joined a religious cult and took Peter to live with her on Phillip Island, miles away from the farm.
Eventually Tom met Hannah Babel, a Hungarian immigrant who opened a bookshop in the town. Hannah was a Jew who somehow survived Auschwitz, although her young son and husband didn’t. Hannah’s back story, almost unfathomable to the people of Hometown, was woven into her and Tom’s present. They fell in love and married, but when Peter ran away from the cult to return to Tom, Hannah made it clear to Tom that she could not risk loving another child.
I loved the innocence of the time this book was set in, particularly the lack of awareness the Australian characters had regarding events in other parts of the world, all of which somehow amused Hannah, who had seen and experienced so much.
Australians, children, they know nothing.
Tom, Hannah and Peter are wonderful characters. Tom was quiet and strong, Hannah extravagant and bold, while Peter had the makings of being a man of Tom’s stature.
The Book Shop of the Broken Hearted didn’t make me feel as much as it could have, however, that is not a complaint. Some parts of each of the character’s lives were tragic, along with events within Tom and Hannah’s community, ranging from the childlessness of their friends to floods that took the homes of their neighbours, even a double-murder for a reason which on one hand seemed trivial but on the other was enormous, but the characters coped with everything that came their way in a stoical, keep-your-chin-up manner, and as a result, so did I as a reader. In fact, I felt stronger and more joyful for having read this story without wallowing in misery, taking my cue from the main characters.
The Book Shop of the Broken Hearted was a surprisingly joyful book and I will seek out more of this author’s works.