The book begins with Kate McBride, a young woman who works in a bakery shop in Brooklyn, N.Y., cleaning out her childhood home following her mother's death. Her mother collected a lot of books over the years, and Kate is getting them ready to be donated. Hidden in the spine of what appears to be a log book written in German is a painting, which Kate takes to an art expert and later learns is an early work of Marc Chagall. When no one claims the painting, Kate is deemed the owner, and she finds herself wealthy beyond imagination when the Louvre buys "Girl With Flowers" for $50 million in an auction.
Kate doesn't know what to do with all that money, so she leaves her job and flies to Europe with her best friend, Connie, to try to figure things out. When they arrive in Munich, a trip to tour a castle doesn't pan out, and they visit the Holocaust memorial in Dachau instead. Kate happens upon a photo of a young woman who looks exactly like the woman in the painting...and "Girl With Flowers" is hanging on the wall in the background of the photo. This begins her quest to find the woman in the painting or her heirs to ensure they receive the money from the auction. What follows is the story of Marc Chagall and a young woman drowning under familial obligations and in love with a man she can never have.
I was captivated from the very first page, and I won't give away more of the plot because you really need to read it for yourself. Kate is a woman with a big heart, and something inside her changes when she learns the story of the painting. From Kate and Hannah's stories, we learn that life is not about money--it's about taking a chance on love, freeing yourself from the chains imposed by your situation, making peace with the past, and keeping hope alive.
It took me only two days' worth of commutes to finish the book. I felt attached to the characters, and by the time the Holocaust story was told, I was in tears. I marked a couple of passages to share:
'We were the one of the last to go in June, 1942, Lilly and me, to Thereisenstadt. The whole time we were in the ghetto we would get postcards from there saying how nice it was, how they played music, great symphonies, outdoors. But of course, when we got to the camps it wasn't like that at all. The only music came from the gypsy women they forced to play naked in the bitter cold. The louder the screams from the gas chambers, the louder they were forced to play. After that, there wasn't much to say.' (page 231)
'And then, we tried to lead our lives. To be like everybody else. To have a job, a family, to be normal. But normal for us was not like normal for everybody else. We could only fit in so far. People asked what the tattoos were,' she said showing Kate the faded blue numbers on her wrinkled arm. 'I used to tell people 'We had a big family, we needed the numbers to keep track of who's who.' When they asked what it was like, what do you tell them? That you had to break apart your grandparents' gravestones and use them to make roads for the Nazis to run over? . . . That we watched people throw themselves against the electric fence just to stop the pain? Where do you begin? You don't, that's not how you fit in.' (page 235)Now you know why I cried. Clarke is the child of Holocaust survivors, and his intimate connection to such a tragic period in history really comes through in his writing. Keeping Hannah Waiting pulls at your heart, makes you angry, but best of all, it leaves you with a feeling of hope. And I must say, the cover ranks among my favorite of all covers I've ever seen.
******I read this book for the WWII Reading Challenge I'm co-hosting with Serena over at War Through the Generations. I'm making good progress on the challenge. I didn't set a personal reading goal (the sky's the limit for me!), but I only need to read 5 to officially complete the challenge, and Keeping Hannah Waiting is number 4.
I hope you'll stop by tomorrow for my interview with Dave Clarke, author of Keeping Hannah Waiting!