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People of the Book: A Novel Paperback – December 30, 2008
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Amazon Best of the Month, January 2008: One of the earliest Jewish religious volumes to be illuminated with images, the Sarajevo Haggadah survived centuries of purges and wars thanks to people of all faiths who risked their lives to safeguard it. Geraldine Brooks, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of March, has turned the intriguing but sparely detailed history of this precious volume into an emotionally rich, thrilling fictionalization that retraces its turbulent journey. In the hands of Hanna Heath, an impassioned rare-book expert restoring the manuscript in 1996 Sarajevo, it yields clues to its guardians and whereabouts: an insect wing, a wine stain, salt crystals, and a white hair. While readers experience crucial moments in the book's history through a series of fascinating, fleshed-out short stories, Hanna pursues its secrets scientifically, and finds that some interests will still risk everything in the name of protecting this treasure. A complex love story, thrilling mystery, vivid history lesson, and celebration of the enduring power of ideas, People of the Book will surely be hailed as one of the best of 2008. --Mari Malcolm
--This text refers to the Preloaded Digital Audio Player edition.
From Publishers Weekly
Reading Geraldine Brooks's remarkable debut novel, Year of Wonders, or more recently March, which won the Pulitzer Prize, it would be easy to forget that she grew up in Australia and worked as a journalist. Now in her dazzling new novel, People of the Book, Brooks allows both her native land and current events to play a larger role while still continuing to mine the historical material that speaks so ardently to her imagination. Late one night in the city of Sydney, Hanna Heath, a rare book conservator, gets a phone call. The Sarajevo Haggadah, which disappeared during the siege in 1992, has been found, and Hanna has been invited by the U.N. to report on its condition. Missing documents and art works (as Dan Brown and Lev Grossman, among others, have demonstrated) are endlessly appealing, and from this inviting premise Brooks spins her story in two directions. In the present, we follow the resolutely independent Hanna through her thrilling first encounter with the beautifully illustrated codex and her discovery of the tiny signs-a white hair, an insect wing, missing clasps, a drop of salt, a wine stain-that will help her to discover its provenance. Along with the book she also meets its savior, a Muslim librarian named Karaman. Their romance offers both predictable pleasures and genuine surprises, as does the other main relationship in Hanna's life: her fraught connection with her mother. In the other strand of the narrative we learn, moving backward through time, how the codex came to be lost and found, and made. From the opening section, set in Sarajevo in 1940, to the final section, set in Seville in 1480, these narratives show Brooks writing at her very best. With equal authority she depicts the struggles of a young girl to escape the Nazis, a duel of wits between an inquisitor and a rabbi living in the Venice ghetto, and a girl's passionate relationship with her mistress in a harem. Like the illustrations in the Haggadah, each of these sections transports the reader to a fully realized, vividly peopled world. And each gives a glimpse of both the long history of anti-Semitism and of the struggle of women toward the independence that Hanna, despite her mother's lectures, tends to take for granted. Brooks is too good a novelist to belabor her political messages, but her depiction of the Haggadah bringing together Jews, Christians and Muslims could not be more timely. Her gift for storytelling, happily, is timeless. Copyright 2007 Publishers Weekly. --This text refers to the Preloaded Digital Audio Player edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
As with many New York Times Bestsellers, I am skeptical of their true merit. Not necessarily because these books aren't worthy of such titles, but rather because I always end up a little disappointed. I think I get disillusioned with what a "New York Times Bestseller" actually means in regards to the quality of the book. The "bestseller" title gives me high expectations for the book, but I should instead take it with a grain of salt given that it doesn't necessarily correlate with how much I will enjoy the book.
"People of the Book", as is apparent from the title, is the story of the multitude of people who were involved in the creation and/or safe-guarding of the famed Sarajevo Haggadah [a Jewish text].
As was mentioned in a previous review, I absolutely love historical fiction pieces that intertwine multiple perspectives and storylines into the main plot. I believe that this sort of writing style for historical fiction is the most effective, as long as the transitions from past to present are done effectively. "People of the Book" did an excellent job with this and I genuinely enjoyed when the book had me time travel to unknown times and places. I would go so far as to say that I was even disappointed when the book took you back to the "present" main plot line. I, unfortunately, felt that the main plot line took away from the main focus of the book: the Haggadah. Particularly due to the love story between two of the main characters; it took away from the rest of the novel, and was unnecessary in the context of this story. The side stories, on the other hand, were perfection. My personal favorite was the last side-tale in which the artist behind the beautiful illuminations of the Haggadah was revealed.
The construction of the plot line was artfully done, and I felt that the author did an excellent job in transitioning between the main plot line and the side stories. I particularly appreciated the chronological order she chose to take with these side narratives. In addition, Geraldine Brooks did not necessarily directly connect all the parts of the story together; she left a little mystery to it and gave just enough information for the reader to be able to discern it themselves.
I am glad that I was finally able to read this book, but in the realm of historical fiction novels, this was not one of my favorites. I just felt that the main plot line took away from the side narratives, and there were parts of the main storyline that seemed extraneous. However, the central themes of the book are important ones, and Geraldine Brooks highlights them at every occasion she gets. The main theme being that historical artifacts are central to our history and their importance should be recognized. Unlike us, they are able to survive time and tell their stories to future generations, if only we would listen.
My two very serious criticisms are: This book needed a glossary. The author is a journalist and knows that the italicized words which are of foreign origin to the reader should be defined. In context, one could pretty well guess the meanings but a glossary would have added more authority to the book.
The other criticism is that Hanna, the main character of the book, was not believable. She needed to be middle aged to have accomplished all the professional titles and degrees and experience she would have needed for this role. Also, there was way too much attention paid to her personal life which distracted from the main point, that is, the journey of the book throughout history.
As for my cerebral and physical response to the book, well, this exquisitely written story literally knocked me out and as I finished the last sentence, I could not stand. The characters surrounded me and I simply had to sit and wait until they lifted away and permitted me to re-enter reality. That's how powerful every character and story, for it is one story made of many, affected me upon the finish.