Tuesday, February 3, 2009

People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks


Title: People of the Book
Author: Geraldine Brooks
Publisher: Penguin Books
Publication Date: December 2008
Format: Paperback, 400 pages
Age Group: Adult

Australian rare book expert Hanna Heath has the opportunity to examine the Sarajevo Haggadah, a priceless Jewish book that survived war. The book is one of the earliest known Jewish texts with illustrations. Hanna must repair the book so it can be placed in a special display. During her examination, Hanna finds small clues to the historical journey the book has taken to arrive at this point and she is able to learn something about the people who created and owned it.

People of the Book is a wonderful novel based on the real Sarajevo Haggadah. Chapters alternate between Hanna in 1996 and an important event in the history of the book. In Hanna's chapters, she investigates artifacts found in the book. The following chapter explains the presence of that artifact in the book. The chapters are very clearly labeled with the artifact, location, and year. This makes it very easy to transition between times and places.

Although the story focuses on a Jewish text and contains Jewish terms and traditions, I did not need to have a previous understanding of these traditions to enjoy the book. The focus is not on the traditions so much as it is the people who created each piece of the work and how the pieces came to be pulled together into one volume. The history is not simply the history of the book but, as clearly stated in the title, it is the story of the people of the book. Each had their own story and left their own mark. In her examination of the book, Hanna becomes a part of its story and so her personal story becomes important.

People of the Book is a fantastic historical novel. Brooks provides incredible detail in describing the Sarajevo Haggadah and the historical events surrounding it. It is obvious that she spent much time researching her subject in order to provide the most accurate portrayal. She also writes strong characters and dialogue. Overall I would highly recommend People of the Book. The edition I received has a Readers Guide, making it an ideal historical fiction selection for a book club.

Thank you to Julie at FSB Associates for sending me such a great read. I also received an extra copy which I will be giving away here.