Friday, May 7, 2010

The not-so-distant past

Once upon a time, I ran various parent-child book clubs out of a local children’s bookstore (Plug:Monkeyshines Children’s Books ).

One year, a group of ten, eleven and twelve year-old girls, their moms and me read the book Hana’s Suitcase  (940.5318 LEH 2002).  As we were getting ready to start the meeting one of the girls came over and speaking so, so softly told me that this was her favorite book ever! As she was quite the avid reader this was no faint praise.

A docu-drama, Inside Hana’s Suitcase, has just been released based on the book and I was reminded yet again, just what power Hana’s story holds.  We get to know Hana as a young girl living in Czechoslovakia in the 1930’s and 40’s, as smart, funny, athletic, and part of a very loving family.  Flash to current-day Japan and to Fumiko Ishioka, holding Hana’s battered suitcase, teaching children in Tokyo about the horrors Europe endured during World War II.

What are the circumstances that connect Hana and Fumiko? 
What happened to Hana and her family?

Told in alternating chapters, we learn about Fumiko’s quest at the same time we are introduced to Hana and learn of her experiences. The book strongly demonstrates the interconnectedness between past and present with this style of storytelling.  Tension builds slowly as we feel both the direness of Hana’s situation and the urgency and longing to know more about Hana by Fumiko.

This is not your typical World War II/Holocaust story.  Though historical, there is an immediacy and immense relevance for today which is brought about through Hana’s brother, George Brady, the only one in his family to have survived the Holocaust.  Fumiko, after tracing George to Toronto sends him a heart-felt letter telling him of her quest to learn more about Hana.  George, who has lived with a lifetime of grief and guilt over Hana’s death, begins to find closure as he travels to Japan and speaks with children at Holocaust Education Centre.

Hana’s life and death continue to have an impact on people who become witness to her story.  She had hoped to become a teacher one day and its with certainty that we can say that we do indeed have much to learn from her.

HBO Canada will be airing Inside Hana’s Suitcase during the week May 10-15, 2010.  Both George Brady and Fumiko Ishioka star in the movie.


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