Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Hana's Suitcase

Having just reviewed Rutka's Notebook for School Library Journal, my mind turns to other Holocaust narratives I have read. One of the best was Hana's Suitcase by Karen Levine, the 2002 Sydney Taylor Book Award winner in the Older Readers Category.

"Hana's Suitcase" was a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation radio documentary before it was a book. Originally broadcast on January 21, 2001 on The Sunday Edition,
it was produced by Karen Levine, who later became the book's author. It was recognized right away as remarkable storytelling, winning a gold medal at the 2001 New York Festival. The audio can still be heard at the CBC web site.

It's a multilayered story. One the one hand, we have an old suitcase in a Japanese Holocaust museum, with the name "Hana Brady" painted on it. On the other hand, we have the story of what happened to Hana and why her suitcase was left behind. Tying these two threads together is the story of museum director Fumiko Ishioka's globe-trotting detective work to learn about the suitcase's owner. The search led her to Europe and ultimately to Canada, where she found Hana's surviving brother, George.

Intriguing, touching, and ultimately hopeful, the story has attracted attention in all its formats. In 2002, the book version was published by Second Story Press. It won fourteen awards: Jewish awards, Canadian awards, reader-selected awards... and the list goes on.

The story has been produced as a play across Canada and the United States, and the complete script is available in the book Hana's Suitcase on Stage.

A beautiful web site has been produced by the Brady family, which includes additional background information about Hana and her life with brother George. You can even see a silent home movie of the family from 1938!

In a fascinating twist, it was later discovered that the suitcase in the Tokyo museum was actually a replica. Wikipedia explains:
In February 2004, Lara Brady, Hana's niece, discovered inconsistencies between the suitcase on display and the suitcase pictured with Hana's friend after the war in the 1960's. Not only did the physical suitcase appear newer than in the photographs, but the location of the handle was also reversed. In March, Fumiko and George Brady inquired about the suitcase with the director of the Auschwitz museum, who explained that a replica had been created based on the pictures after the original suitcase was destroyed in a fire in 1984. This fire was likely caused by arson (according to the director and police at the time) while on loan to an English exhibit in Birmingham. As the museum personnel omitted this fact when they loaned it to the Tokyo Holocaust Education Resource Center, the fact that the suitcase was a replica had gone unnoticed for several years. The family and the Center assert that even as such, the replica's contribution to the cause of human rights and peace education is not lessened by its lack of authenticity.
So many Holocaust books are published each year that the subject can start to feel overdone. This book is one of the standouts: fresh, well-researched, emotionally engaging, and inspiring.

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