Leanna's Reviews > People of the Book

People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks
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's review
Feb 06, 2008

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Read in February, 2008

I try to avoid all things popular (e.g., I’ve never seen Star Wars or Titanic) because I know, after all the hype, I can only be disappointed. When it comes to books, though, I feel obligated to read what’s popular so I can participate somewhat intelligently in the conversation.

That being said, although I hoped Geraldine Brook’s People of the Book would live up to the buzz, I wasn’t too surprised when it did not. The book is good, but it is not call-up-all-my-friends-(or readers)-and-recommend-it good.

People has been compared to The Da Vinci Code, but I find that comparison erroneous. Although better written than Da Vinci (but, come on, a phonebook is better written than Da Vinci), People lacks the plot, mystery, and pizzazz that made Da Vinci a blockbuster.

Instead, People is much more reminiscent of Susan Vreeland’s Girl in Hyacinth Blue . Hyacinth follows the provenance of a Vermeer painting. People follows the provenance of the Sarajevo Haggadah.

As such, the book is divided into several sections. Five sections follow the Haggadah back in history—to Bosnia, to Austria-Hungary, to Italy, to Spain. As the title suggests, it is not the book that is interesting so much as what happens in the lives of those people attached to it.

These sections are the strongest and most interesting in the book. However, for some reason I cannot fathom, some parts are written in first person and some in third. This twist seems to serve little purpose other than to distract and annoy the reader.

The book’s greatest weakness is the contemporary storyline that cushions each section. Hanna Heath is a book conservator hired to work on the Haggadah. She finds clues in the book—an insect, a stain, a hair—that reveal its history.

Unfortunately, I found Hanna’s story to be downright irritating. Hanna is 30 years old, has a double bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree, and a PhD. She has apprenticed around the globe, is well published and highly regarded in her field. Perhaps I am just jealous, since Hanna and I share the same age and similar academic credentials (okay, hers are much better than mine), but Hanna’s experience and success is simply not plausible for someone so young.

Similarly, everyone Hanna meets—from Vienna’s chief archivist to Sarajevo’s head museum librarian—is 30 or under. Really? How did Hanna and her cohorts pack in so much and become so successful in so few years?

I could continue my nitpickiness (Ozren, the head librarian, speaks flawless English but stumbles over the word “hoof”?), but the point is that Hanna is so unbelievable she becomes a rather unsympathetic character. I was far more interested in what happens when she is out of the picture.

People of the Book is an okay read, but I see no need to trample your friends and neighbors to secure a copy. Read it if you have the time and inclination. If not . . .
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Reading Progress

05/23/2016 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-11)

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message 11: by Liz (new) - rated it 2 stars

Liz Keeler It was one of those books that at times I wondered if I wanted to finish. There was interest but not a page-turner for me. I did finish it and can say it was an ok read but not one I would run and tell people to get.

message 10: by AJ (new)

AJ wait, you haven't seen star wars?????

Leanna AJ wrote: "wait, you haven't seen star wars?????"

It's true. And the older I get, the more difficult it is for me to break down and watch the film :)

Rebekah Congrats on never seeing Titanic... Those are 3 hours I will never get back

Rose I am currently reading this for a book club, and I am quite relieved to know that the story switches away from Hannah from time to time. Forty pages in, and I've already developed an apathetic dislike for her character and her storyline. (I've already contemplated going no further than my current page, but in the hopes that the other perspectives are more interesting, I will try and continue.)

message 6: by Janet (new)

Janet Wilson You do need to see Star Wars, though!

Sarah Downing I agree with your review. I enjoyed the read and felt that the individual stories around the artifacts found in the book were much more interesting. I also thought the ending was rather rushed and forced.

message 4: by Amy (new) - rated it 2 stars

Amy Thx for this review. I agree. I read about half of the book and felt annoyed. I enjoyed Year of Wonders though.

Katie I totally agree with what you said about the narration switching from third to first person. It confused me into reading the same page several times because I thought I had missed something. I hold Geraldine Brooks in high regard as an author, and didn't expect her to use such rookie writing tactics. I also think you wrote an excellent review!

Elizabeth Losing the will to live, trying to read this book. Listening to it in audio is not helping as the poor reader tries to mimic all the different accents. The constant references to Australia and our linguistic peculiarities is a tiresome diversion. I guess this is more skin to an anthology of airily dry short stories and I prefer a more conventional novel form.

Lily Yes! Hanna's academic success threw me also - I work in a similar field and have similar credentials as well, and I'm considered an early career researcher, hardly someone who's going to be called as a leading expert. Also, she dropped out of school at 16 for... What, a year? It wasn't really clear how long she took off for, but we're expected to believe that this didn't affect her academic career AT ALL. Her little jibes about adding her tiny grains of knowledge irritated but more so her general attitude - she is a profoundly unlikeable character.

(The "hoof" thing bothered me too. Glad I'm not the only one.)

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