The Bookshop of the Broken Hearted

The Bookshop of the Broken Hearted

by Robert Hillman


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Can one unlikely bookshop heal two broken souls?

"Beautifully written . . . Full of insight into the nature of tragedy, love, and redemption."—Garth Stein

"A poignant journey of unthinkable loss, love, and the healing capacity of the written word."—Ellen Keith

It is 1968 in rural Australia and lonely Tom Hope can't make heads or tails of Hannah Babel. Newly arrived from Hungary, Hannah is unlike anyone he's ever met—she's passionate, artistic, and fiercely determined to open sleepy Hometown's first bookshop. Despite the fact that Tom has only read only one book in his life, the two soon discover an astonishing spark. Recently abandoned by an unfaithful wife—and still missing her sweet son, Peter—Tom dares to believe that he might make Hannah happy. But Hannah is a haunted woman. Twenty-four years earlier, she had been marched to the gates of Auschwitz.

Perfect for fans of The Little Paris Bookshop and The Tattooist of Auschwitz, The Bookshop of the Broken Hearted cherishes the power of love, literature, and forgiveness to transform our lives, and—if we dare allow them—to mend our broken hearts.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780525535928
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 04/09/2019
Pages: 304
Sales rank: 187,515
Product dimensions: 6.60(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.20(d)

About the Author

Robert Hillman is the author of The Bookshop of the Broken Hearted and the coauthor of The Honey Thief. He won Australia's National Biography Award in 2005 for his memoir The Boy in the Green Suit. He lives in Melbourne, Australia.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1


She didn't stay long as far as marriages go, just a year and ten months. Her note was brief, too:


I'm leaving. Don't know what to say.






And Tom Hope was left injured in a way that seemed certain to kill him.


He stood at the wooden table in the kitchen reading again and again what she'd written. He thought: It was the rain. He pictured her standing on the verandah in her blue dress and her cardigan while the rain came down day after day from a gray sky. He read the note one more time. It was written on the pink notepaper she'd used on special occasions and dated September 10, 1962. She'd also left behind a piece of toast from which she'd taken a single bite. The indent preserved the arc of her teeth.


He kept to the farm for weeks after she'd gone. He knew what would happen if he drove into Hometown: How's the missus, Tom? from every direction-and he had no answer. He worked in a daze, holding himself together as best he could. Cleared the channels in the orchard, a good five days, then repaired the wire fences of the hill pastures ready for the woollies in spring. He had never wept in his life but these days his cheeks were tear-streaked all the time. When he noticed, he would shrug: What did it matter?


She barely had any family: her father missing up in New South Wales; her mother and sister, Tilly, living with some Bible bashers who'd taken them down to Phillip Island. Where could she have gone?



He couldn't stay on the farm forever. He needed tobacco, sugar, tea. He needed Aspros. He woke with a headache every morning. In town, first one friend then another expressed surprise at his long absence. When he was asked how his wife was faring, he said, "Oh, she went on her way." He didn't elaborate. He thought, I'm meant to be alone. He had more reason than Trudy running away to make him believe this. He'd always been awkward with people. He had to remind himself to smile. But in his heart he yearned for people all around him. Only let them not ask him to talk and smile too much. Let them just say: "Tom, good to see you," and, "Tom, look in one time and say hello to the kids." Animals forgave his unease. The mare he'd bought for Trudy to enjoy obeyed him, never her. His dog, Beau, an old heeler, loved him in the way of dogs. But then, Beau loved everyone.


. . .



Listening to the radio one evening, he understood suddenly a comment she'd made not so long before she left. She had talked a lot when she was playing the game with the three decks of cards, such things as: "Clever girl!" and "Whoops-a-daisy!" But the comment Tom had just recalled was different. At the time, he'd thought it part of her strange three-deck game. It wasn't. It was something intended for him. "Another night in paradise," she'd said, moving one small pile of cards to the edge of the low table.


. . .


Tom stood up from his armchair and stared straight ahead. Why had it taken him so long to understand? Another night in paradise. He stamped through the house, arms folded tight over his chest. All the things he might have done to make his wife happy crowded his mind. A record player. Songs that she could choose for herself. A television set on hire to purchase. A proper bathtub, not that half-rusted tin thing. He ran to the kitchen and found a piece of paper and a black pencil. In a frenzy, he wrote a list of the things he would do to make a difference if Trudy should one day come back. Whenever a new idea came to mind, he rushed back to the kitchen and added it to the list:




7-Pets cat budgie!!


8-Light fire kitchen first thing!!


Outside, Beau ran yelping along the verandah from the back door to the side door, excited by the movement inside the house.



More items occurred to him over the following days. Tell her about good things she does. Such as what? Like when she doesn't burn the sausages. And when he'd had that pain in the guts, she'd asked him three times if he was feeling better. Like when she says how are you feeling. But one afternoon in the kitchen for a cuppa he glanced down at his list on the table and noticed how hard he'd pressed the pencil into the paper. This was mad, wasn't it, making notes? Tell Beau not to jump up on her. An image formed of Beau listening to him, head cocked. Tom smiled and made a mental note on a different list: Don't be an idiot. Trudy had told him once, smiling, that he was "unbalanced" given the way that he'd stick with some problem about the farm for hours, for days, studying the habits of the codling moth until he'd all but indexed the physical and mental processes of the insect. She'd mimicked him perfectly, the way he wandered up and down, arms crossed, head on his chest, mumbling his thoughts. He'd enjoyed the mickey-taking.


. . .



Tom's sisters drove up from Melbourne in Patty's big Ford to see to him. He'd been their big brother in their growing-up years but at some point, one sister then the other had adopted a protective way of handling him. It was as if their developing experience with men had made them aware that their brother lacked a type of male insistence, often very stupid insistence but maybe necessary. He was solid with men, respected by them; but a woman of a certain sort, they clearly believed, could get away with murder. And Trudy was evidently that sort.


. . .


Listen to Tom in his letters taking all the blame on himself! The sisters had come to the farm with a message: Get over her, Tommy love, and move on.


Tom had only the one strategy for dealing with his sisters when they fussed: He became carefree. Making tea in the kitchen, Patty called over her shoulder: "More fool her if she doesn't want our handsome Tom!"


Tom said, "Probably for the best!" and smiled as if he were well on top of the situation.


Claudie said, "Her and her crosswords!" She meant the crosswords in the Sun newspaper that Trudy had pored over, chewing her pencil.


Patty called cleverly, "I'd give her a cross word or two if she turned up now, I can tell you!" and the three of them laughed.


When the sisters left for home in the middle of the afternoon, Tom heaved a sigh of relief. But the relief was succeeded by a plunge of sadness. He had said one or two things critical of Trudy for his sisters' sake and now he felt like a traitor. "Damn you for that!" he said aloud to himself. He added to his second-chance list of ideas a new item, number 34: Don't blame her for things!!



A big southeasterly took a sheet of iron off the dairy roof the day Trudy returned. Tom was up a ladder in the late afternoon hammering the sheet back in place when he saw her. The Melbourne bus must have dropped her off on the town road. Everything in the world came to a stop except for Trudy struggling up the drive with her suitcase. It had been raining for a month, just as it had been when she ran off, and it was raining now. The first words that came to Tom when blood returned to his brain were: "Thank God!" He hurtled down the ladder two rungs at a time and strode to meet his wife with all the unused joy of twelve months swelling his heart.


. . .


When they met halfway up the drive he wrapped his arms around her, he couldn't help it. "I'll take this," he said, picking up her suitcase. Trudy was sobbing. Even in the rain, face all wet, her tears still showed in their passage down her cheeks. "Don't cry, love," said Tom, but Trudy's shoulders continued to heave with the rigor of her weeping.


Once in the kitchen, Tom helped his wife off with her red overcoat and sat her by the warm stove. He brought her a towel for her hair but, although she accepted it with a whispered, "Thank you," she didn't use it. She sat with the towel on her lap sobbing and shaking. Tom stood behind her with his hands on her shoulders. He said, "There, love. Don't cry now." Every now and again in her weeping, Trudy struggled out the word, "Sorry!" and once managed a little more: "Tommy, I'm sorry!" Tom was looking down on the tangled, wet mess of her fair hair. As Trudy sobbed, Tom drew the strands of her hair back from her face with his fingertips.



Tom didn't presume that Trudy would wish to share their marriage bed that night and was prepared to sleep on the sofa. But no, she insisted that he climb in beside her. She had recovered from her sobbing and something like her old, soft smile had returned. There was nothing wrong with her appetite, either: She ate a huge plate of bubble and squeak and, on top of that, a whole tin of peaches with fresh cream. And she spent almost an hour in the bathtub before bed once Tom fired up the water heater.


. . .


Trudy wore to bed a pink satin nightdress that Tom had never seen before. It had been her custom before she ran off to wear pajamas at night. Tom was careful not to touch her and only lay still beside her in the dark, smiling at his good fortune. Nor did he ask for explanations. It was Trudy who spoke first, and it was Trudy who drew herself close to him. The soapy smell of his wife could almost have burst Tom's heart.


"Tom," she said, "I went a little bit mad."


"Yes," said Tom.


"Do you know what I want? I want to forget all that. I want to forget it forever."


"Yes," said Tom. "Forget it forever."


"I missed you so much, oh so much, darling! Did you miss me like that?"


"Very much," said Tom.


She kissed him. Nothing on earth was as soft as her lips, nothing. She stroked his face. If he'd had the words, he would have blessed her for coming back to him.


She kissed him harder and said, "Will you make love to me?"


"Do you want that?" said Tom. It was something he'd refused to hope for.


Trudy sat up in bed and lifted her nightdress over her head, lay down again and pressed herself to him.


"Darling man."



Tom agonized over the list of ideas. He wanted to show it to Trudy but feared it would seem foolish to her. She was the one with the education, two more years of high school than Tom's father had thought enough for him. A sophisticated person might consider his list a bit childish-he could see that. In the end, though, he decided that he must show her. Her mood on the first two days of her return was the best he could remember, but on days three and four she'd seemed glum. Tom hoped with all his heart that the list would cheer her up again.


. . .


"What's this?" she said. She was still in bed but roused herself to accept a breakfast cup of tea and Tom's six sheets of notepaper. Her bedside light was on. She'd been reading her book and had dozed off. The book lay open and face-up on Tom's vacant side of the bed. The cover picture showed a young woman with long golden hair shielding her breasts with loose crimson fabric. Two men leaned over her, one at each shoulder. A crusader knight and, as Tom surmised, a sultan.


"Some ideas I had," said Tom. He sat on the side of the bed.


Trudy read slowly, sipping her tea at intervals. She didn't say anything. Tom managed not to ask her what she thought of the list while she was still reading. When she was away he'd forgotten how pretty she was, how the brown of her eyes caught the light and gleamed. He wanted now to stroke her hair and to breathe in the sleepy smell of her skin. He thought, I should've shaved!


Trudy put the list down on the little table beside the bed. "Oh, Tom," she said. She lay back on her pillow and covered her face with her arm.


Tom in his dread didn't move. Then found the courage to stroke his wife's hair. "What is it, Trudy?" he said. "What's wrong?"


Eyes covered, she said something that Tom didn't quite catch.


"What was that?"


Trudy uncovered her face. Her eyes were wet and glowing. She reached up and took hold of Tom's shirt just below the neck and kneaded the fabric between two fingers.


"I'm pregnant."


"Pregnant?" said Tom.


"Tom, I wouldn't blame you if you threw me out. I truly wouldn't."


As Tom leaned back, the air came out of his lungs with a sound like a sigh. It was as if his body couldn't be sure that it was supposed to keep going. Finally he said, "There was someone else?"


Trudy didn't say anything. She was watching her husband's face.


Tom said, "Excuse me." He walked out to the verandah and let the screen door slam behind him.


"Dear God!" he said under his breath. So much was ruined. When his father died it was like this. So much ruined. A healthy man, who strode about like a king, killed in a week by a sickness that didn't even have a proper name. And then his mother died a year later when her heart packed up, and not the least warning. Tom looked up at the hills and said again, "Dear God!"


But even in his shock and disappointment he knew there would be no throwing out. He heard her voice behind him.


She was standing inside the screen door, barely visible in the shadows.


Tom didn't speak. Her form became more distinct as his eyes adjusted. He could see the sheen of tears on her face.


"We'll work it out," she said. "Please let's work it out, Tom? We can, can't we?"



It was noticed in Hometown, Trudy's baby-well, naturally. She must be, what-four or five months now? And she'd been back with Tom no more than three months-about that? Or maybe Tom had been seeing her before she came back, wherever she was. Do you think? Anyone with hide enough to ask Tom Hope if his wife's baby was his, good luck to him, or her. And if it wasn't, did Tom even know? Bev Cartwright from up on the floodplain, who had been close to Tom's uncle Frank, told anyone who raised the matter: "Do you think he's an idiot? Tommy's an intelligent man."

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