HANA'S SUITCASE: A True Story
Karen Levine, . . Albert Whitman, $15.95 (120pp) ISBN 978-0-8075-3148-8
Levine expands on her radio documentary, produced for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, for this unique approach to learning about the Holocaust. The author alternates between two chronicles, the first set in contemporary Tokyo, where a dozen children between the ages of eight and 18 form a club at a center for Holocaust education run by Fumiko Ishioka, and the other in 1930s Czechoslovakia, where young Hana Brady is enjoying a happy childhood. Fumiko obtains for the club some children's artifacts from Auschwitz, including a suitcase marked with Hana's name. She then attempts to find out everything she can about Hana. Levine cross-cuts to the tragedies that befall Hana and her brother, but does not let readers anguish; she interposes exciting accounts of Fumiko's detective work and the sense of accomplishment it brings to the club. The engrossing account of Fumiko's research offsets the author's flat prose and occasionally questionable methodology (e.g., the construction of pivotal conversations between 13-year-old Hana and a friend who, like Hana, was killed upon arrival in Auschwitz). In an introduction, Levine promises that the suitcase contains "terrible sadness and great joy." That "joy"—apparently the impact of Fumiko's research, which culminates in her discovery of Hana's brother in Toronto—may strike some as disproportionate to the circumstances, but it also reflects the club members' commitment to "building peace." Their commitment lends credence to the optimistic message passed along to the audience—that an awareness of the past can impact the future. Ages 10-13.
Reviewed on: 03/03/2003