Wendy's Reviews > People of the Book

People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks
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's review
Jul 05, 2010

really liked it
bookshelves: historical-fiction
Read from June 27 to 30, 2010

Interesting premise, great characters, well-written.

The main part of the story takes place in the mid-1990s in war-torn Sarajevo as book conservationist Hanna travels there from her native Australia to work on the Sarajevo Haggadah, the oldest surviving Jewish illuminated manuscript, which contains the traditional text that accompanies the Passover Seder. Brooks's history of the Haggadah is fiction based loosely on fact but the book itself is real.

Hanna discovers many interesting things in the Haggadah, including an Alpine insect wing, a non-kosher wine stain, a white cat hair, and saltwater. Hanna notes that a very intricate and decorative clasp is missing from the book. The book is also full of elaborate illuminations, which are apparently very unusual in a haggadah. One of the paintings portrays a well-dressed dark-skinned woman standing with a white family - for all appearances, a slave in what looks like a family portrait. Hanna sets out to solve the mystery of how these odd items came to be in the book, as well as to figure out what happened to the clasp and who the slave woman is.

While Hanna comes close to solving a few of the mysteries, the real story of each of the items is told in a series of short stories within the main narrative. The author alternates between the present-day and the short stories. Each short story goes back further in time and retraces the places the book has been, the people who intereacted with it and how they protected the book and themselves against those who would destroy them over religious differences. Each of the short stories are so well done that any of them could probably be developed into a full story on their own. I found myself wishing to read more about many of them.

At the core of the story is the sad truth that people have been persecuting each other over differences in religion throughout history all the way up through the "ethnic cleansing" in Sarajevo. And of course, religious persecution continues today. The book really struck a chord with me in both the senselessness of killing people over religion as well as the fact that humankind appears doomed to perpetuate such senselessness.
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message 1: by Kay (new) - added it

Kay Johnson Let me know what you think of this one. I heard Brooks interviewed once and the book sounded interesting.

Wendy Kay wrote: "Let me know what you think of this one. I heard Brooks interviewed once and the book sounded interesting."

I really liked this one, definitely worth reading!

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