The Bookshop of the Broken Hearted

Robert Hillman

The Bookshop of the Broken Hearted
Text Publishing Co
2 July 2019

The Bookshop of the Broken Hearted

Robert Hillman

Tom Hope doesn’t think he’s much of a farmer, but he’s doing his best. He can’t have been much of a husband to Trudy, either, judging by her sudden departure. It’s only when she returns, pregnant to someone else, that he discovers his surprising talent as a father. So when Trudy finds Jesus and takes little Peter away with her to join the holy rollers, Tom’s heart breaks all over again.   

Enter Hannah Babel, quixotic smalltown bookseller – the second Jew – and the most vivid person –Tom has ever met. He dares to believe they could make each other happy.   

But it is 1968 – twenty-four years since Hannah and her own little boy arrived at Auschwitz. Tom Hope is taking on a battle with heartbreak he can barely even begin to imagine.


There is a saying in Hungary: You know you’re a Hungarian when you can’t say anything positive about politics. I live with a Hungarian and this statement is totally accurate. However what it doesn’t say, and what you need to know as you begin to ponder the wonderful character of Hannah Babel in The Bookshop of the Broken Hearted, is that Hungarians understand and mock politics all the time because they have been done over by so many other nations.

After World War II and the Hungarian uprising, Hannah Babel arrives in Australia as a grieving mother and a widow twice over. She moves to a small town in Victoria and meets mild, decent and devoted farmer Tom Hope. Hope, of course, has had his fair share of disappointments and grief, but he is genuinely unable to comprehend the forces that have governed Babel’s life. It’s simply unfathomable for an Australian farmer to understand the depths of fear in a Hungarian Jewish woman in the 1960s. It is clear though that the author, Robert Hillman, does.

He has written a precious story here. I read it one sitting and was enthralled by Hillman’s ability to conjure up all that is country Victoria (the scenery, the gossip and the neighbours) alongside all that is Hungarian (the food, the politics, the heartbreak) and I fell utterly in love with his two main characters. They are my type of people. Surely they have been created to represent some sort of truth about our country. Certainly, I found that the novel beautifully represents Hillman’s inherent understanding of Australia and its people. This is a novel of desolation, and it is, ultimately, a love story. Frankly, for me, it doesn’t get better.

Chris Gordon is the events manager for Readings.

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