Thursday, May 29, 2008

People of the Book

People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks was originally published January 1, 2008 and is 372 pages. This is not a mystery per se, but it does take literary license to flesh out a historical mystery: how the Sarajevo Haggadah managed to survive during all the centuries of turmoil that has beset the Jewish people. Reviewing it as a mystery would be to do great disservice to the People of the Book. What Brooks does is alternate chapters set in the present (1996;2002) with chapters set in 1940 Sarajevo, 1894 Vienna, 1609 Venice, 1492 Tarragona, and 1480 Seville. The story is really the history and journey of the Sarajevo Haggadah and how it managed to survive all those centuries

I will have to agree with other reviewers in one minor point: I could have done with less of the story of Hanna. I would have enjoyed it more, I think, if Hanna stayed a minor character who simply found the clues - an insect wing, wine stain, salt crystals, and a white hair - during the present day documentation of the condition of the Haggadah that compelled her to try and unravel the mystery of where the Haggadah was and how it managed to survive. The clues that were then explained in the alternate chapters were the real treasures in this book. Rating: 4 Review:
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


"I might as well say, right from the jump: it wasn't my usual kind of job." pg. 1

"....I agreed to take this job. To be honest, it never occurred to me to not take it. You don't say no to the chance to work on one of the rarest and most mysterious volumes in the world." pg. 8

"For a start, most books like this, rich in such expensive pigments, had been made for palaces or cathedrals. But a haggadah is used only at home. The word is from the Hebrew root hgd, "to tell," and it comes from the biblical command that instructs parents to tell their children the story of the Exodus." pg. 19

"I hate driving in Boston, It's the traffic that drives me spare, and the absolutely terrible manners of the motorists. Other New Englanders refer to Massachusetts drivers as 'Massholes.' " pg. 134

"Even after thirty years in the city, he still loved the light and the air of Venice, its mingled scents of brine and moss, mold and moist plaster." pg. 149

"Think about it. You've got a society where people tolerate difference, like Spain in the Convivencia, and everything's humming along: creative, prosperous. Then somehow this fear, this hate, this need to demonize 'the other' - it just sort of rears up and smashes the whole society. Inquisition, Nazis, extremist Serb nationalists...same old, same old. It seems to me the book, at this point, bears witness to all that." pg. 195

"The art world in England is an absolute magnet for the second sons of threadbare lords or women named Annabelle Something-hyphen-Something who dress in black leggings and burnt orange cashmeres and smell faintly of wet Labrador." pg. 262

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