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Historical Fiction

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Keeping Hannah Waiting: 03/16/09

Writing a review of a historical fiction that covers a recent and painful piece of world history is a daunting task. Add to the mixture, a book that offers to teach about the continued wrongs being propagated against the original victims and their families while being a source of charity income for an organization that is striving to undo some of those wrongs and it leaves me not sure how to proceed.

Keeping Hannah Waiting by Dave Clarke is just such a book. At its most basic form, it is a historical and contemporary fiction about a fictional Marc Chagall painting (Girl with Flowers) found under extraordinary circumstances with an even more extraordinary history. It is also a teaching device about events leading up to the German concentration camps and the on going repercussions. Finally all the sales of the book go to benefit the Survivor Mitzvah Project.

For the purpose of this review, I am only going to focus on the fictional aspects of the book and way in which the story is told. Keeping Hannah Waiting has three distinct parts: Kate McBride's story of her mother's death and the discovery of the painting, the story of Lilly called Hannah, and finally Kate's attempt to do some good with her ill gotten gains.

The novel excels at building a convincing timeline for both Kate's story and Lilly's story, though it does take advantage at dramatic coincidence to keep things tight. I especially loved Kate's part of the book as she goes through the emotional roller coaster of losing her mother, having to settle her mother's estate, finding the painting, thinking all her financial problems were over and then realizing the human cost of her gain. How Kate manages to track down Hannah and learn her story was also fascinating and reminded me favorably of The History of Love by Nicole Krauss.

Just as all the pieces of Kate's quest are coming together, the novel steps away from her for a hundred page flash back that features the story of Marc Chagall and the real Hannah. By itself this section is just as well written as the modern day parts that book-end it. Coming though when it does, it's jarring and to some degree it soured my appreciation of the novel. The two timelines would have been better presented in a parallel structure.

Despite my quibbles about the placement of the historical section of the novel within the contemporary part, I still think it's a book worth reading.

Comments (4)

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Comment #1: Saturday, March, 21, 2009 at 18:09:20


This sounds interesting.. I really loved The History of Love, too.

Comment #2: Saturday March 21, 2009 at 18:07:02


Keeping Hannah Waiting is worth reading although it's not as tightly written as The History of Love.

Comment #3: Friday, May, 15, 2009 at 22:12:17


Thanks for linking to my review! I really enjoyed this one. I see your point about the various storylines, but the way Clarke structured it didn't bother me at all. I added your link to my review. Would it be okay to link to it on War Through the Generations as well?

Comment #4: Saturday, May 16, 2009 at 18:09:11

You're welcome. Of course you can link to it from the War Through Generations site. Happy reading.

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