Sharon Dodge's Reviews > People of the Book

People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks
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's review
Aug 19, 2011

it was amazing
Read in August, 2011

People of the Book was extraordinarily difficult for me to read. I had to put the book down for whole weeks at one point, though like most English majors I normally devour books in a single sitting. I doubt I'm alone in this reluctance to read it; despite the often tender prose and the feeling of deep love that went into the writing of the book, it's bitterly tragic in most of its chapters.

The story of this specific Haggadah - specifically, the fictionalized story of the Sarajevo Haggadah, a Jewish Seder book telling the story of the Jewish liberation from Egypt - is that of its history: specifically, the many hands it passes through prior to its arrival in the museum. This story is nothing less than brutal, passing through centuries of oppression, and its creators and its protectors suffer abuse of every kind. It is easy to become attached to these characters, and the result is usually painful.

What makes it bearable are the alternating chapters of the book's pre-museum-history with the life of Hannah, the book restorer and specialist hired by the museum whose life, though sad at first glance, appears positively rosy in comparison to the previous book handlers' lives. Through her, the passion for books - and the tremendous research on the part of the author - take on a life of their own.

I do not have a penchant for painful books or movies, and this story, in the hands of a lesser author, would be untenable - at least for me. But under Brooks' deft and reverent touch, I found myself not only finally finishing it, but thankful for the experience.


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