People of the Book: A Novel

People of the Book: A Novel

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by Geraldine Brooks

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View our feature on Geraldine Books’s People of the Book.

From the Pulitzer Prize–winning author of March, the journey of a rare illuminated manuscript through centuries of exile and war

In 1996, Hanna Heath, an Australian rare-book expert, is offered the job of a lifetime: analysis and conservation of the famed

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View our feature on Geraldine Books’s People of the Book.

From the Pulitzer Prize–winning author of March, the journey of a rare illuminated manuscript through centuries of exile and war

In 1996, Hanna Heath, an Australian rare-book expert, is offered the job of a lifetime: analysis and conservation of the famed Sarajevo Haggadah, which has been rescued from Serb shelling during the Bosnian war. Priceless and beautiful, the book is one of the earliest Jewish volumes ever to be illuminated with images. When Hanna, a caustic loner with a passion for her work, discovers a series of tiny artifacts in its ancient binding—an insect wing fragment, wine stains, salt crystals, a white hair—she begins to unlock the book’s mysteries. The reader is ushered into an exquisitely detailed and atmospheric past, tracing the book’s journey from its salvation back to its creation.

In Bosnia during World War II, a Muslim risks his life to protect it from the Nazis. In the hedonistic salons of fin-de-siècle Vienna, the book becomes a pawn in the struggle against the city’s rising anti-Semitism. In inquisition-era Venice, a Catholic priest saves it from burning. In Barcelona in 1492, the scribe who wrote the text sees his family destroyed by the agonies of enforced exile. And in Seville in 1480, the reason for the Haggadah’s extraordinary illuminations is finally disclosed. Hanna’s investigation unexpectedly plunges her into the intrigues of fine art forgers and ultra-nationalist fanatics. Her experiences will test her belief in herself and the man she has come to love.

Inspired by a true story, People of the Book is at once a novel of sweeping historical grandeur and intimate emotional intensity, an ambitious, electrifying work by an acclaimed and beloved author.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Editorial Reviews

March, Geraldine Brooks's second novel, won her the 2006 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. People of the Book, her third novel, seems headed for comparable acclaim. Its plot revolves ever so gracefully around the true story of the Sarajevo Haggadah, a 14th-century Sephardic holy book that somehow survived centuries of hatred and destruction. Into this real-life epic tale of heroism and chance, Brooks has skillfully woven a historical fiction of uncanny force. In her hands, this improbable, even wondrous story of one document's survival becomes both a timely meditation on faiths in conflict and a tense historical thriller. Superb storytelling; a literary masterpiece tinged with the excitement of rediscovery.

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Penguin Publishing Group
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Penguin Group
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3 MB
Age Range:
18 Years

What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
"Less flash and more substance than The Da Vinci Code . . . The stories of the Sarajevo Haggadah, both factual and fictional, are stirring testaments to the people of many faiths who risked all to save this priceless work."
- USA Today

"As full of heart and curiosity as it is intelligence and judgment."
-The Boston Globe

"Intelligent, thoughtful, gracefully written and original."
-Jonathan Yardley, The Washington Post

"Erudite but suspenseful . . . one of the most popular and successful works of fiction in the New Year."
-Alan Cheuse, NPR / "All Things Considered"

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People of the Book 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 283 reviews.
harstan More than 1 year ago
In 1996, Sydney, Australian resident Hanna Heath receives a call from the UN as they want to use her rare book conservator expertise. Apparently the renowned Sarajevo Haggadah, thought destroyed during the Bosnian War, has been found. Harriet is euphoric as she knows the value of this incredible ancient Hebrew tome with its images.-------------- Although a loner whose only love is rare books, when Hanna meets the ¿savior¿ Muslim librarian Karaman, they are attracted to one another. Still it is the book that holds her enthralled as she begins to uncover other artifacts of the past buried inside the pages (white hair, insect wing, salt, and a wine stain) and items missing (lost fasteners). Each tells a unique story about who held the precious Sarajevo Haggadah.-------------------- PEOPLE OF THE BOOK is an interesting tale that uses the discoveries by Hannah to take the reader back in time to meet those who handled the ancient tome in various eras like 1940 Bosnia, 1480 Seville, and 1492 Barcelona, etc. Each entry provides a historical conflict between a person protecting the book and those wanting to defile the book. Throughout this superb fiction tale is the underlying message that the time for the Jews, Muslims and Christians to unite in peace is now not tomorrow as all have more in common than the differences that divide them.------------ Harriet Klausner
NatalieTahoe More than 1 year ago
I love it when a book is able to seamlessly & eloquently combine fiction and history, leaving you wondering where fiction ends and truth begins. As a voracious reader, I enjoy being able to delicately step through a story's pages & revel in the imagination of the writer, whilst learning a new nugget of actual history that sadly, didn't make any of my history classes in high school or college. People of the Book does just that. This is a treat beyond all compare, beauty of history & story within front and back covers. The Haggadah is a Jewish book that is read on the first night of Passover and tells the stories of enslavement, and the subsequent miracles performed by God which ultimately resulted in freedom. In People of the Book, Hannah Heath is a rare books expert from Australia who travels to battle-torn Sarajevo in 1996. Her task is to preserve the beautiful Sarajevo Haggadah that has just been uncovered after 100 years. This Haggadah, though, is very different both in color and in sketch -- odd that it has survived throughout the years, since its original creation date sometime in the 14th century in Spain would have been during a time when drawing a person and illuminating it as such, although clothed, was considered offensive. Somehow it has survived throughout the years from the Spanish Inquisition to the Holocaust. Piqued by this curiosity, & passionate about preservation, Hannah also finds several items that are encapsulated within the pages of the book, such as a red stain, or a white hair, or an insect wing, & these objects become the opportunity for the author to explain in whose hands this book may have fallen, and the significance they earned in history. We watch the book travel from Venice and to Vienna, & we learn the stories of the people who held the book, cared for the book, and saved the book, ultimately saving a critical piece of Jewish history. Although some of these sections are fictionalized, the story of the Sarajevo Haggadah sends the message to the reader that it has become even more than just the colorful drawings and the binding of it, but about the people of the book, the people who fought and died for this incredible piece of history. I found this refreshing & moving, & I was struck by the significance of a book that is of such beauty and importance to history. It made me wonder who really were the people that protected it through hundreds of years? Geraldine Brooks writes each character & scene in such a fluid manner, moments depicted with such heartbreak, such horror, and yet with hope. It moved quickly for me & it wasn't long before I finished. When I closed the book, I felt regret that I had never learned of this subject and felt that it was a duty of mine to learn more on such an important topic. Reading People of the Book has made my visits to the museum a much different experience, awareness more profoundly etched within me, as I look at an object on display-in whose hands did this significant artifact fall, how did this manage to survive time and human ignorance to get to this museum behind protected glass, for me to view? And on my list of places to visit, I will add Sarajevo no matter how battle-torn, simply to be able to visit with the amazing Sarajevo Haggadah, where it is on permanent display.
Inqblot66 More than 1 year ago
I found this book to be a really interesting piece of historical fiction. However, all of the gratuitous sex and Ms. Brooks social politics made a potential good read a preachy outlet for her world view. I still give it three stars because the historical fiction pieces were well thought out.
SAM1954 More than 1 year ago
I found this book so compelling that I could not put it down. The story is based on a real book -- the Sarajevo Haggadah. But it so much more than a story of the survival of a particular book. It is in essence the story of survival of people. Not just the Jews, who are popularly known as the "people of the book," but of humanity in general. It is a book of hope -- that as long as good people exist AND take a stand the world will endure.

I also must say that Geraldine Brooks continues to impress me as an author. This now make three of her novels that I have read and I did not realize until I was reading the author bio prior to book club that she had written the other two (Year of Wonder and March). This is a tribute to Ms. Brooks skill as a writer. She writes so well and is versatile as well. There are too few modern writers that I can say continue to surprise me with their works and the surprise is good. Even when I disagree with her approach (I hated March at first) she makes me think and consider my prejudices. Long may she write and continue to surprise and please with great plots and literate prose.
Annibebe More than 1 year ago
What more could a book lover ask for but a history of a book and all the people that ever loved it, protected it, and created it. I highly recommend this book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A beatiful cover. No discerible plot and terrible storyline structure. First we are in a museum studying books then all of a sudden in Nazi Germany the story then evolved to a troubled family member. The storyline is all over the place without an organization towards a plot. Since I am a person that enjoys reading, I cannot remember the last time I did not finish a book. The storyline was so erratic and unfufilling, I earnestly tried to keep reading and reached the middle of the book. At that time I came to the realization it was no longer worth my time or effort to continue. I closed the book and do not intend upon picking it up again.
Lint More than 1 year ago
A lot going on in this one- drama, mystery,surprises and an opportunity to learn about history,culture and human nature.
jpeb More than 1 year ago
I want to start by saying I loved the Year of Wonders, it was one of the best stories I ever read. This was also well written but not as genuine as Wonders. I am tired of female characters who are just a little too cool, hate their mothers and don't need anyone. That said Hanna is interesting and the details of her work are explained in detail but I enjoyed learning about book conservation to a point. I found it a bit difficult to follow at times but loved the old stories and how it all tied in. This is a story of the injustices against the Jews throughout history and Brooks makes sure the Jewish characters are also the ones with character.
fitz12383 More than 1 year ago
Man, I love big, fat books in which I can totally get lost. And this book, spanning multiple countries over 500 years, is the ultimate saga covering art, religious persecution, book conservation, and more. I know that the length of the book can seem intimidating, but readers who are interested in these themes will not be sorry they read it. Interspersed throughout Hanna's narrative in 1996 Sarajevo are the stories of the various people throughout history who were in some way connected with the survival of the ancient Haggadah. Each period we visit in the book's history corresponds with a fragment or small object found by Hanna's conservation efforts of the ancient book. On the journey, readers will encounter war, discrimination, prejudice, and tradition that lasts for centuries. The Hagaddah in the book is in fact based on a real object, the Sarajevo Hagaddah, written around 1314 in Spain.
NomdeplumeAZ More than 1 year ago
Did not like the main character. Seemed ambigous in her love life. History of the book is fascinating. But,plot was not carried along by weak characterization of the main person.
srmom More than 1 year ago
It was very interesting to see facts intertwined with fiction as Geraldine Brooks took us on a tour of the Sarajevo Haggadah. Her perspectives of the events during these different periods of history were intriguing.
emmi331 More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed this tale of a Hebrew sacred text dating back to the 15th century. The book is unique because not only did it survive the Inquisition, but it contains gorgeous illuminated illustrations more typical of those in Catholic devotional books. How did this happen? The mystery is slowly unraveled, starting with the book's more recent history and moving deeper into the past until its origins in Spain are revealed.
This can make it occasionally confusing, since most sagas of this type start at the beginning. But the reader is rewarded in the end! Alternating chapters tell the story of Hanna, a rare book conservator in the current era, who becomes involved with the ancient volume and finds both betrayal and love as a result.
Kate_Sullivan More than 1 year ago
An interesting trip back through the centuries involving the creation and preservation of a Jewish haggadah. The critical point being that this precious book was saved time and time again by those of a different faith. The one word that I will take away from this book forever is "Convivencia" meaning "co-existence." A time in Spain when Catholics, Muslims and Jews lived in relative peace. I pray for Convivencia around the world today!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Excellent audio book! Great narrator! One of the best ever, right up there with The DaVinci Code and Shadow of the Wind! A must for unabridged listening devotees!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Inspired by her experiences as a journalist in Sarajevo, Geraldine Brooks breathes life into the history of a rare illustrated Hebrew manuscript, the Sarajevo Haggadah. People of the Book spans centuries and continents to follow the guardians of the Haggadah as they flee war and persecution, often with little but the clothes on their back and their precious artifact. Muslims, Catholics, Jews and atheists take their turns defending the art, literature and culture encompassed in the small, fragile volume. The religions that set The People of the Book apart have their common roots in the pictures and stories in the Haggadah. Every event in the novel resonates with our news today, as cultural treasures, individuals and ethnic groups are being destroyed by the same ancient divisions and hatreds, and the same greed for power and wealth that endangered the book and its keepers over hundreds of years. A story of manuscript conservation and scientific inquiry which could easily be dry and boring vibrates with energy and life in this unforgettable novel. The people of the book are fascinating characters living in interesting times and their lives are relevant to ours, their choices and decisions speak to the greatest issues of our times.
Guest More than 1 year ago
What a lovely read! The characters are beautifully drawn and the plot engaging. As I neared the end of the book, I found myself slowing down because I did not want to finish it! I have read Ms. Brooks' other forays into fiction. This is my favorite! Highly recommended!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Wow, I just turned the last page and I'm digging way back to try and remember a more enjoyable read. Geraldine Brooks proves that illumination can be done with more than just brushes and ink. So very nice to have discovered and read dow this marvelous book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed this book and the wonderful characters and stories that the author created to describe the history of 'the book'. I also loved the way the book brought out the possibility of societies in which Christians, Jews, and Muslims not only live together peacefully but share art and culture.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
not the best but nice change of pace I read it quick and wanted to know what was next.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This was a book that we read for our Book Group. I was fascintated about the tales of this book being handed from place to place in history. I heartily recommend it. And I liked the ending.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
She walked in, hands in her back pockets, and waited.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed People of the Book. It was very interesting. The idea of being able to follow the Book throughout history, is what drew me in. The main character's job was restoring old books and manuscripts. The reader was able to become part of the story by following through the centuries and the people who cared for The Book. Evey nationality and religion were involved in keeping the book safe. 1GMAof3