My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This was a great story to be reading around Father’s Day, since the main character is a loving father who lacks paternity. I love books about bookshops; in this one, the bookshop, while pivotal, relinquishes center stage to life outside the pages. The titular bookshop is like our own Singing Winds, an intellectual treasure in the Australian outback. The woman who starts it in 1968 is an immigrant: Hannah, a widow, a survivor of Auschwitz. Every book that Hannah has curated into her bookstore—a foolishly vast collection of 7,500 titles—represents hope and defiance in the face of loneliness and pain, untranslated poetry and all. Hannah hires Tom Hope to build her bookshelves.
It’s an impactful illustration of life in rural anywhere. People are both close and far apart; intimate and private; accepting and judgemental; desirous and distrustful of the novel and peculiar. Hillman is tender with his rural characters, reminiscent of Kent Haruf. So many writers highlight either tragedy or pain; this is a novel that's an attempt to portray real life with its balance of both, featuring people we feel we know, friends or family.
Even though we learn Hannah’s story in detail, the book revolves around Tom, a farmer. He’s lost his wife to a cult for the second time, along with Peter, her child who he’s raised as his own from birth. Tom Hope is the stoic and quietly heroic everyman, who may not be articulate or artistic, but who doesn't know how to take his heart back once he's given it. Each person in the book has experienced tragedy and has come to their own individual way of dealing with it, "healthy" or not; just like life. Hannah and the child, Peter, have both experienced horrific events. Both are scarred and scared and face hard choices. Both want and need Tom as an anchor, and Tom wants that, too. Hillman does a superb job of illustrating the ripple effect of the everyday hero, the redemptive power of love for those who reach to grasp it. Highly recommended! ~Em Maxwell
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