Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Keeping Hannah Waiting by Dave Clarke

Keeping Hannah Waiting by Dave Clarke is a fictional story of the real-life artist Marc Chagall, but it also is a Holocaust story, a love story, a story of using what we have--whether we have a little or a lot--to reach out to others.

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!


Keeping Hannah Waiting also was reviewed by:

Ramya's Bookshelf
Puss Reboots

If you've also reviewed it, let me know in the comments, and I'll add your link!

Disclosure:  I received a free copy of Keeping Hannah Waiting from the author for review purposes.


bermudaonion said...

That book sounds wonderful and the cover's fantastic too!

Darlene said...

I did not realize that this book could fall into our War Challenge. I have it in my tbr pile. I think I'll pull it out and read it for the challenge too and then come back to your review. It's good to know you liked it for now.

Sandy Nawrot said...

Why can't I find a $50 million dollar painting in a bunch of old stuff? This is why I always watch Antiques live vicariously through others. Anyway, I digress. I must read this book. I am mesmerized, and haven't read more than your snippet. Thank you for your heartfelt review!

Anonymous said...

I read this book last year and liked it too! My only issue was that the cover didnt really match the description of the painting.. but I guess that is a minor thing!

Serena said...

I have this in the TBR pile for WWII and I hope that I love it as much as you do.

Michele said...

Oh good gracious, I don't know what it is about this book, but I am so drawn to it! I've added it to the top of my list and can't wait to read this one. Thanks for the review!

Iliana said...

I had to smile at Sandy's comment because I was thinking Antiques Roadshow too :)

Anyway, the cover of this book is lovely and the story sounds like it's going to be unforgettable. Thank you for such a great review!

Kristi said...

This sounds like a great book - and I need some for that WWII Challenge. I haven't read any for it yet!

Dawn said...

Wow! Very powerful. I loved your interview with the author as well Anna. I'll be looking for this one.

Staci said...

I absolutely loved this review. I must read this book!! Thank you so much for bringing it to my attention!

The Bookworm said...

it does sound like a wonderful read, and I do like that cover!
its always great when you can get attached to the characters you are reading.
great review :)

ANovelMenagerie said...

This cover is beautiful. Sounds like a must read.

Anna said...

~Bermudaonion: I had no idea what the cover looked like when I agreed to review it, and I was pleasantly surprised.

~Dar: I look forward to reading your review. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

~Sandy: Right! I could use even a tiny portion of that kind of money. I hope you get a chance to read the book.

~Ramya: I noticed that, too, but it didn't bother me at all. Glad to hear you enjoyed it, though.

~Serena: I hope you do, too. I'm looking forward to your review.

~Michele: If I'd seen the cover before the description, I would have been drawn to it right away. I hope you get a chance to read it soon.

~Iliana: Thanks! Honestly, Antiques Roadshow never crossed my mind, but then again, I don't really watch it.

~Kristi: This would be great for the challenge. Don't worry, though, you have until the end of the year!

~Dawn: Thanks!

~Staci: You're welcome! I hope you get to read it soon.

~Naida: Thanks! I have a hard time with characters I can't connect with, but when the characters feel like my friends, I have a hard time letting go. :)

~ANovelMenagerie: If you like art, love stories, and are interested in Holocaust stories, then it's a must-read.

Anonymous said...

This book is another, "ohhh the poooor jews". Give me a break. "6 million" jews didn't die in WWII. It was more like 1 million. And lots of people died during WWII, yet all we hear about are the "pooooor jews".

Anna said...

~Anonymous: Regardless of the statistics, I hope you would agree that 1 million Jews dead is too many. Your arguing about the numbers doesn't take away from the horrific crimes committed by the Nazis. And I agree that lots of people other than Jews died during WWII, and that's awful as well. I wonder if you read a lot of books about WWII? You'd find that they're not all about the deaths of Jews.