Monday, February 16, 2009

Review: People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks

I love books of all kinds. But especially OLD books. I don't mean beautiful, pristine, don't they look lovely sitting on the shelf, old books (though those are nice, too) but worn, used, LOVED old books. Writing in the margins? Even better. What could be nicer than to see what some long-ago person thought about this passage or that paragraph? To me, this is the best part of an old book, the tingle of previous hands and minds that have enjoyed it before me. They are HISTORY in your hand. Oh, if only they could speak, what they could tell you about their previous owners and the times they lived in....

Obviously, Geraldine Brooks gets this about old books, because she has written a wonderful novel about exactly that idea. People of the Book is the tale of one book's journey (inspired by a true story).

In the spring of 1996, book conservator Hanna Heath is sent to Sarajevo to stabilize and conserve their museum's famous Haggadah, a Jewish prayer book traditionally used in family prayers. This particular Haggadah is special. It contains brilliantly executed illuminations that are extremely rare in early Jewish books. The book has been hidden away by the Muslim museum director during the recent war and its condition needs specialist care.



The real Sarajevo Haggadah


When she inspects the Haggadah, Hanna finds several clues that will help her to uncover some of the book's volatile history: an insect's wing, mounting marks for clasps which are missing, a stain that looks like wine, salt crystals and a single white hair.

"It was as if I was up against some genie who lived within the pages of old books. Sometimes, if you were lucky, you got to release him for an instant or two, and he would reward you with a misty glimpse into the past. Other times, pouf-he'd blow it all away before you could make sense of it, and stand there, arms crossed: Thus far, and no farther."

Behind each of these clues there lies a story, a piece of the history of the book and these short tales are woven into Hanna's search and her own personal journey.


Considering the tumultuous eras that this book has survived, its existence today is something of a miracle and a testament to the myriad people who came in contact with it. People who, whatever their religion, had the respect and strength of character to preserve something precious.

In People of the Book Geraldine Brooks has given us a peek into what the Sarajevo Haggadah's history might have been like. I loved this excellent and beautifully written story. It was hard to put down and I recommend it to anyone who is interested in well-written historical fiction, contemporary fiction or mysteries.

FYI: The film rights have been acquired by Catherine Zeta Jones. You can find more information on Geraldine Brooks and all of her novels at her website.

Here are some reviews from fellow bloggers:

15 comments:

Beth F said...

I've been curious about this book. I thought it was mostly a religious type book. Now that I know what it's really about, I'm waaaay more interested. Thanks.

bermudaonion said...

Your review makes me want to read this book.

Meghan said...

Ooh, great review. I too just adore books. I'm barcoding the post-1800 collection at the York Minster Library and looking at what people have written in the books - and even just seeing the beautiful handwriting! - is amazing. I have this book on my shelf. I really need to get to it soon.

The Tome Traveller said...

You are a lucky girl, Meghan! That is a job I would volunteer for, that library is just beautiful!

Anna said...

This sounds really good. It reminds me of Annie Proulx's Accordion Crimes except about a book. Great review!

--Anna
Diary of an Eccentric

Ladytink_534 said...

I love books like that too. I have some books that my mom had as a child that I still just adore.

Zibilee said...

I haven't read this yet, but I am hoping that my new book club will choose it. I think it would be an interesting book to discuss. I really liked your review!

S. Krishna said...

I enjoyed this one as well.

Teddy Rose said...

Really nice review Carey! I am looking forward to this book.

Michele at Reader's Respite said...

Okay, although this book sits (as yet) unread on my shelves, it makes me happy to read this review because I know I made a good choice when I purchased it. :)

An Anonymous Child said...

Sounds pretty interesting.

Amy @ Passages to the Past said...

That sounds really good! And you wrote and fantastic review! I totally agree with your feelings on old books...the stories they could tell!

Becca said...

I like the idea of people trying to save a beautiful book and preserve it like a treasure. Plus the element of mystery in the book makes it sound very compelling. I have to admit though that I like the idea more in theory than in practice. It sort of makes me wince when someone writes in a book.

wordlily said...

This book stars a *book conservator*??!?! Wow. The reasons I want to read this book just keep stacking up.

Anonymous said...

Geraldine Brooks insightful understanding of human behavior and her ability to pen thoughts to paper, combined with her extensive research makes this an outstanding read. When I saw that she had won the Pulitzer for "March" I felt confident that I had purchased a great read in "People of the Book." I wasn't disappointed in any literary aspect.

Thank you!!

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About Me

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New Hampshire, United States
Bibliophile, Anglophile, Traveller... I have been an avid reader all of my life, since I took the Dr. Seuss Dictionary away from my Mom when I was less than a year old because I wanted to read it myself. In college, where I earned my degree in English Literature, I was often asked "What are you going to do with it?" Now I finally have the answer to that question!!! Being employed as a Flight Attendant for twenty years has given me a lot of life experience and, better still, a lot of time to read. I love to travel for fun, too.