People of the Book: A Novel

People of the Book: A Novel

by Geraldine Brooks


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The bestselling novel that follows a rare manuscript through centuries of exile and war, from the author of The Secret Chord and of March, winner of the Pulitzer Prize.  

Inspired by a true story, People of the Book is a novel of sweeping historical grandeur and intimate emotional intensity by an acclaimed and beloved author. Called "a tour de force"by the San Francisco Chronicle, this ambitious, electrifying work traces the harrowing journey of the famed Sarajevo Haggadah, a beautifully illuminated Hebrew manuscript created in fifteenth-century Spain. When it falls to Hanna Heath, an Australian rare-book expert, to conserve this priceless work, the series of tiny artifacts she discovers in its ancient binding-an insect wing fragment, wine stains, salt crystals, a white hair-only begin to unlock its deep mysteries and unexpectedly plunges Hanna into the intrigues of fine art forgers and ultra-nationalist fanatics.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780143115007
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 12/30/2008
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 416
Sales rank: 65,552
Product dimensions: 5.00(w) x 7.60(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

Geraldine Brooks is the author of four novels, the Pulitzer Prize-winning March and the international bestsellers Caleb's Crossing, People of the Book, and Year of Wonders. She has also written the acclaimed nonfiction works Nine Parts of Desire and Foreign Correspondence. Her most recent novel, Caleb's Crossing, was the winner of the New England Book Award for Fiction and the Christianity Today Book Award, and was a finalist for the Langum Prize in American Historical Fiction. Born and raised in Australia, she lives on Martha's Vineyard with her husband, the author Tony Horwitz.

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"

Reading Group Guide

Hanna Heath has cultivated a life of exquisite detachment. Raised by an aloof and often absent mother, she has eschewed any kind of deep emotional involvement. But—as an expert on rare books and an Australian whose nationality makes her the least controversial political choice to inspect a priceless Hebrew codex—Hanna is about to be plunged into a dangerous drama that will force her to confront both her past and the passions she has worked so hard to conceal.

It is 1996 when Hanna first flies to Sarajevo. The city’s peace is new and still tenuous, but the opportunity to inspect the famous Sarajevo Haggadah is a career maker that she cannot pass up. A lavishly illuminated medieval Hebrew text, this haggadah is an anomaly that has fascinated scholars for generations and its survival in war-torn Bosnia is hailed as “a symbol of the survival of Sarajevo’s multiethnic ideal.”

Initially put off by her armed U.N. escort and the intense scrutiny of the National Museum, where she is forced to perform her delicate work, Hanna is nonetheless mesmerized by the book’s astonishing beauty. She studies its inks and parchment and recovers a fragment of an insect wing, salt crystals, wine stains, and a single white hair from between the delicate pages. She also notes that the clumsily rebound book is missing its original clasps. Each discovery is a clue that offers to unlock a chapter of the haggadah’s mysterious history.

But Hanna becomes involved with more than the book during her time in Sarajevo. After she completes her initial documentation and repair work and leaves the city, she remains haunted by the few nights of intimacy she shared with Ozren Karaman, the Muslim librarian who braved enemy shelling to rescue the hagaddah. As she travels from Vienna to Boston and then to London in the hope of deciphering her scant evidence, Hanna fleshes out shadows of the book’s past. Simultaneously, Brooks reveals the gripping tale of survival behind each miniscule artifact.

During World War II, a young partisan is saved by the same Muslim who risks his life to protect the haggadah from the Nazis. In fin-de-siècle Vienna, a Jewish doctor unwittingly plays a role in the theft of the book’s clasps. In Inquisition-era Venice, a Catholic priest’s most damning secret spares the book from burning. In Tarragona in 1492, a poor scribe completes the text just days before the expulsion of Spain’s entire Jewish community. And in Seville in 1480, the unlikely artist paints a self-portrait into the Seder illustration.

Hanna is thrilled by her discoveries, little suspecting that her professional and personal worlds are about to come crashing down around her. When she returns to Sarajevo under very different circumstances, Hanna can no longer remain a dispassionate observer and finds that she has become one of the “people of the book” whose passions and sufferings, nobility and frailty, contribute to the hagaddah’s continuing history.

The author of the Pulitzer Prize–winning March and Year of Wonders, Geraldine Brooks has made a name for herself as one of the foremost novelists of our era. In People of the Book—inspired by the true story of the Sarajevo Haggadah—she brilliantly interweaves an epic historical saga of persecution and survival with a powerful modern-day tale of private betrayals and international intrigue.


Geraldine Brooks is the author of Year of Wonders and the nonfiction works Nine Parts of Desire andForeign Correspondence. Previously, Brooks was a correspondent for The Wall Street Journal, stationed in Bosnia, Somalia, and the Middle East.

Q. Your previous two novels are set during Europe’s plague years and the American Civil War. Now, you’ve created an epic story about art and religious persecution. What is it that draws you to a particular subject, or a particular historical era?

I love to find stories from the past where we can know something, but not everything; where there is enough of a historical record to have left us with an intriguing factual scaffolding, but where there are also enough unknowable voids in that record to allow room for imagination to work.

Q. What do you think it is about the real Sarajevo Haggadah that has allowed it to survive the centuries?

It’s a fascinating question: Why did this little book always find its protectors when so many others did not? It is interesting to me that the book was created in a period—convivencia Spain—when diversity was tolerated, even somewhat celebrated, and that it found its way centuries later to a similar place, Sarajevo. So even when hateful forces arose in those societies and crushed the spirit of multiethnic, interfaith acceptance, there were those individuals who saw what was happening and acted to stop it in any way they could.

Q. Were you already working on People of the Book when March won the Pulitzer Prize? How does winning such a prestigious award affect your writing?

I was working on People of the Book even before I started to write March. I’d been struggling quite a bit with the World War II story: It’s such a picked-over period and I was looking for a backwater of the war that wouldn’t perhaps feel so familiar to readers. That search was leading to a lot of dead ends when I suddenly got the idea for March and it was so clear to me how to write that book that I just did it.

The “Pulitzer Surprise,” as my then-nine-year-old son so accurately dubbed it, affected my writing only in that it interrupted it for a while by drawing renewed attention to March. But after a few weeks of pleasant distraction I was back at my desk, alone in a room, simply doing what I’ve always done, which is trying to write as best I can, day after day.

Q. Book conservation is hardly a glamorous job, but Hanna’s framing narrative is every bit as action-packed and compelling as the stories in the hagaddah’s history. What inspired her creation?

Because I like to write with a first-person narrator, getting the voice of the book is everything to me. I’d struggled a lot with my first idea, which was to have the conservator be Bosnian. I love the way Sarajevans express themselves; it’s a kind of world-weary, mordant wit overlying an amazing ability to absorb and survive great suffering. But I wasn’t getting the voice and the book was stalled as a result. Then I suddenly thought, Well, why shouldn’t she be Australian? That’s a voice I can hear clearly. Hanna came alive in my head and as a result the contemporary story, which I’d originally thought of as merely a framing device for the stories from the past, became much more important.

Q. The scientific resources that Hanna employs to find out more about the book’s artifacts are really fascinating. How much of that is drawn from actual research and how much springs from your imagination?

I went to labs. I interviewed scientists and conservators and observed their work. But the book is fiction, not a technical treatise, so experts will be able to spot a place or two where I took some small liberties.

Q. The Jewish people have endured extraordinary trials. How much about this history did you know before writing the book?

Most of it. The whipsaw of Jewish history has fascinated me since I was in junior high.

Q. Who is your favorite character and why?

That’s like asking a parent to name a favorite child. Hanna became like a good mate, and I actually miss hanging out with her. But I feel a certain tenderness towards all of the characters, perhaps especially the most flawed ones.

Q. People of the Book is set in so many different eras. Was it a more difficult book to research and write than your previous novels?

There was definitely more to research, but it wasn’t difficult. I loved the various journeys—actual and intellectual—that it took me on. Seeing the domes and spires of Venice shimmering in the watery morning light; having the great privilege of meeting Servet Korkut, who supported her husband in resisting fascism; watching Andrea Pataki painstakingly take apart the real Sarajevo Haggadah—these are experiences of a lifetime.

Q. Will the book be published in Bosnia, and if so, what kind of reception do you anticipate?

I hope it will. I have no idea about the reception. It’s very presumptuous, what I do—meddling around in other people’s history. When I went back to Eyam, the plague village, I fully expected a faction of the townsfolk to want to have me clapped in the stocks. (They still have them there.) To my intense relief, the people I met had really embraced the book. I had the same feelings of trepidation when I went to read March in Concord, Massachusetts. I was delighted to be met at the reading by Louisa May Alcott (Jan Turnquist, director of the remarkable Orchard House Museum, in costume), who thanked me for being one of the very few who had tried to understand and appreciate her father. So I hope the people of Bosnia will forgive me for taking liberties with their history and see the book as a tribute from someone who was inspired by the remarkable spirit of Sarajevo.

Q. What are you working on now?

I’m just at the earliest stages of exploring an intriguing story set very close to home, on Martha’s Vineyard. It concerns people who lived on this island in 1666, one of my favorite years, and seems to have just the right mix of knowns and unknowables—a lovely incomplete scaffold to build on.

  • When Hanna implores Ozren to solicit a second opinion on Alia’s condition, he becomes angry and tells her, “Not every story has a happy ending.” (p. 37) To what extent do you believe that their perspectives on tragedy and death are cultural? To what extent are they personal?
  • Isak tells Mordechai, “At least the pigeon does no harm. The hawk lives at the expense of other creatures that dwell in the desert.” (p.50) If you were Lola, would you have left the safety of your known life and gone to Palestine? Is it better to live as a pigeon or a hawk? Or is there an alternative?
  • When Father Vistorni asks Rabbi Judah Ayreh to warn the printer that the Church disapproves of one of their recently published texts, Ayreh tells him, “better you do it than to have us so intellectually enslaved that we do it for you.” (p. 156) Do you agree or disagree with his argument? With the way he handled Vistorni’s request?
  • What was it, ultimately, that made Father Vistorini approve the haggadah? Since Brooks leaves this part of the story unclear, how do you imagine it made its way from his rooms to Sarajevo?
  • Several of the novel’s female characters lived in the pre-feminist era and certainly fared poorly at the hands of men. Does the fact that she was pushing for gender equality—not to mention saving lives—justify Sarah Heath’s poor parenting skills? Would women’s rights be where they are today if it weren’t for women like her?
  • Have you ever been in a position where your professional judgment has been called into question? How did you react?
  • Was Hanna being fair to suspect only Amitai of the theft? Do you think charges should have been pressed against the culprits?
  • How did Hanna change after discovering the truth about her father? Would the person she was before her mother’s accident have realized that she loved Ozren? Or risked the dangers involved in returning the codex?
  • There is an amazing array of “people of the book”—both base and noble—whose lifetimes span some remarkable periods in human history. Who is your favorite and why?

Customer Reviews

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People of the Book 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 439 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
BusyBookworm More than 1 year ago
People of the Book is a fascinating story about a beautiful, rare book which has survived centuries of threatened destruction only to be saved time and again by the people who have been captivated by it. The story's main character, Hanna, is a rare-book expert and conservationist who is called to Sarajevo to study the Sarajevo Haggadah and learn all she can about this brilliant masterpiece. In her examination of the book she finds several small, seemingly inconsequential clues as to where the book has been and whose lives it has touched. The author cleverly weaves together chapters dedicated to each clue, i.e. "The White Hair," with chapters of Hanna's modern-day struggles to unearth the stories associated with the clues all while discovering some of her own tragic family history. The characters of the book are well-developed and entirely believable. Hanna and her mother have a loveless, often caustic, relationship which becomes even more troubled when Hanna discovers secrets of her family history that her mother has kept from her all of her life. The mother-daughter dynamic is frustrating and sad, but realistic. The stories surrounding the clues Hanna finds in the Haggadah offer fascinating glimpses into the lives of those living in Italy, Bosnia and surrounding areas during various times of anti-Semitic waves of violence throughout the centuries from the late-1400s to World War II. For many readers, these brief glances into the past will open their eyes to a long, history of violence and hatred toward a people that is hard to understand, but necessary to remember. People of the Book was a thoroughly enjoyable read from beginning to end. It was very well written and incredibly intriguing. Often in books with more than one story line, one story will lack the ability to keep the reader just as enthralled as the parallel story. Such was not the case with People of the Book. Learning the stories of the people who unknowingly left clues in the Haggadah was just as engrossing as following Hanna as she discovered the mysteries of her own family history and what the Haggadah meant to her. People of the Book is recommended to anyone who enjoys being captivated by an excellent story and learning a bit of history at the same time.
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.
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.
TRFeller 7 months ago
We tend to forget that the printing press has not always been with us. Before Gutenberg, scribes had to hand copy all the books in the world. In this novel, there is a minor character who boasts that he copied the Koran 20 times in his long career, and everyone else is supposed to be impressed by his dedication. However, it is not the Koran that this book is centered upon, but rather the Sarajevo Haggadah, an actual book for which the author created a fictional story. It was originally created in Spain in the 15th Century and is unusual in that it is illuminated, that is, illustrated. (A haggadah is a Jewish story book used during Passover.) There is a framing story about an Australian rare-book scholar, Hanna Heath. In 1996, she gets an assignment to analyze and conserve the book, which had been hidden in a bank vault by a Moslem museum curator during the civil war in the former Jugoslavia. She has a troubled relationship with her mother, who never told her the identity of her father, and has a romance with that curator. Otherwise, the novel works backwards and tells the stories of the various people who have handled the book over the centuries: 1940 Sarajevo, 1894 Vienna, 1609 Venice, 1492 Catalonia (the year when Jews were expelled from Spain), and 1480 Seville. In 1940, a Moslem librarian and his wife shelter a Jewish woman during the German occupation, and he hides the book in a Moslem library. A Viennese bookbinder is suffering syphilis and takes short-cuts when he re-binds the book in 1894. A Catholic priest working for the inquisition in 1609 examines and ultimately decides that such a beautiful book need not be destroyed for heresy. The Jewish family in 1492 is torn apart when their only son converts to Christianity. The artist was a young woman from North Africa, who began drawing from an early age and illustrated plants for the texts of her father, a Moslem physician and herbalist. After bandits kill her father, she is sold into slavery and ends up in Seville, still Moslem at the time. She works for a calligrapher, a ruler of Seville, and finally a Jewish physician when she creates the illustrations in 1480. The last two sections are pure speculation on the author’s part. The artist of the real book is still an historical mystery.     I thought the book worked best when it was primarily an historical detective story and worst when it was primarily a romance. Although my edition was 478 pages, at times it felt too short, because you wanted to learn more about the people who handled the book at various times.
wilsonknut on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Brooks won the Pulitzer in 2006 for her book March, so I felt obligated to try People of the Book when I saw it on display at the mega-bookstore that shall remain unnamed. I feel guilty that I didn¿t spend my money at the local independent bookstore. I had a gift card. What could I do.The book is about the Sarajevo Haggadah, a Jewish religious text that tells the story of the Jewish exodus from Egypt. It¿s believed that this Haggadah originated some time in the 14th century in Spain and made it¿s way to Sarajevo, surviving Jewish expulsion, the Spanish Inquisition, World War II, and the Bosnian War. The Haggadah contains some beautiful illustrations similar to Christian prayer books, and one of them includes a Moorish woman. This raises several historical questions about why this Jewish text has Christian influenced artwork and a Moorish woman. Brooks¿ fictional protagonist is a conservationist of ancient texts. She finds several clues as to the Haggadah¿s origins and history while restoring it for the museum in Sarajevo. The chapters take the reader back in time to tell the fictional story behind each clue, which is pretty interesting, but several times Brooks uses corny plot twists along the lines of something from a Dan Brown novel. Most are in the present and involve the protagonist and her own little storyline. Overall, the book is about how multiculturalism is great and created this wonderful work of art, but I have to say I felt the Christians in this book took a beating. I know, the Inquisition. I can¿t argue with that. I don¿t want to give any spoilers, but there are several times Brooks could have gone in a different direction with certain characters. Again, the Dan Brown nonsense really turns me off. It wasn¿t a lot, but that¿s my pet peeve, especially coming from a writer who won the Pulitzer.People of the Book is good, and it kept my interest, but it¿s not as good as I thought it would be. I guess that¿s what I get for not buying March, but I figured her follow up to the Pulitzer could only be better¿right?
norabelle414 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
- Audiobook - This book was completely underwhelming. Dr. Hanna Heath is an expert in an usually unexciting research field, has daddy issues, and sleeps with the first guy she meets who shares an interest in her field. Sounds familiar. As an Australian, she is completely perfect in every way and is thus chosen, out of all of the ancient manuscript experts in the world, to study the newly rediscovered Sarajevo Haggadah, a 600-year-old Jewish religious book, in Sarajevo shortly after the Bosnian War. She finds several pieces of "evidence" in the book: a few white hairs, a wine stain, some grains of salt, an insect wing. Hanna's research into each of these items develops into an historical fiction story of what could have happened to the Haggadah at that time period. These stories were entertaining on their own, but were pretty much ruined for me by the unoriginal, unrealistic, and generally obnoxious "plot" that held them together.The idea that a forensic investigation would yield as much information as Hanna's did is laughable. I really didn't appreciate the "witty" observations stereotyping America or England (or anyone else). Each of Hanna's "conflicts" (and there were several) was more unrealistic than the last (what kind of 30-year-old scientist doesn't ever demand that her mother tell her who her father was?!?) and completely petty compared to what the Jews in the historical stories were going through. (Jews in Spain/Venice/Sarajevo were being exiled/tortured/killed but you can't manage to ask your mother who your father was?!?). Each of Hanna's issues comes to some kind of conclusion, but not a satisfactory one.Hanna's story was told in the 1st person, and the historical stories were told in the 3rd person. It worked well and made perfect sense! Except the last of the historical stories was in 1st person. So that was weird.Things I liked: The narrator Edwina Wren (particularly her accents); the background/insight into Sarajevo and the Bosnian War, which I did not previously know anything about; the historical stories were not bad (as I mentioned) and I liked the fact that they were presented in reverse chronological order.In short, there is way too much going on here, and most of it doesn't work.
Cait86 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
After struggling through People of the Book for about three weeks, I finally finished it the other day. It is a book that many here on LT love, and Geraldine Brooks seems to be a very popular author right now. Unfortunately, I cannot bring myself to join Brooks' fans - so brace yourselves, because this is not going to be a positive review.People of the Book has a fantastic premise: Dr. Hanna Heath is a book conservator who specializes in Hebrew manuscripts. Her work takes her to Sarajevo, Bosnia, where a rare Jewish prayer book, the Sarajevo Haggadah, has recently come to light. Hanna inspects the book, looking for clues to its long history. In the pages of the Haggadah she finds part of an insect wing, salt residue, a wine spill, and a white hair; missing from the book are the clasps that would have adorned the cover. Each of these things add to the history of the Haggadah, and so the chapters of People of the Book tell their stories, and the stories of the people connected with the book. We read about the hiding of the Haggadah during WWII, its narrow escape during the Inquisition, and its creation in Spain. People of the Book spans over 500 years - years that are linked by this prayer book, and by the lives of Jewish people across Europe.So far so good, right? This is a pretty intriguing idea for a novel, and I was really excited to read People of the Book. In the end, however, I thought it missed the mark. Here's why:1. I never really cared about any of the characters. There were so many stories in this book, because it was tracing the history of the Haggadah, and so each character was only around for one section of the book. Just as I was starting to get interested in one person's story, it was over, and I had to meet an entirely new cast of people. Also, the character who held the book together, Hanna, was underdrawn. I never really had enough time with her to care about her life either, yet the climax of the book revolved around her own personal crisis. When her life fell apart, I didn't care. When her life was put back together, I didn't care. Events that were supposed to evoke shock or sadness in the reader were meaningless, because I had never come to sympathize with Hanna.2. The ending came out of nowhere. For the last few chapters, I felt like I was reading a totally different book - the plot was different, the characters were different, even the writing style was different. Hanna was doing and saying things that were inconsistent with her character, and the reasons behind the changes were feeble. Events were blown out of proportion, and problems to which I saw perfectly logical solutions were handled in extremely illogical ways. If the first 4/5 of the book were just ok, the last 1/5 was excrutiating.3. The writing was immature. There were passages in this book that were beautiful - in fact, the entire section about the white hair was wonderful - but mostly, I found the narrative rushed and in need of an editor. Important events were glossed over, and then mass amounts of time were spent on small details and insignificant moments. Also, very little was left for the reader to piece together. Themes were so obvious that I felt I was getting hit over the head with them. I prefer when the author's messages are subtle, when I have to think about what I am reading, and so often with this book my only reaction was "ok, I get it!"People of the Book had so much promise, and discussed so many powerful ideas, yet in my opinion its execution was poor. Brooks could have created something amazing, instead of something mediocre. I wanted to love this book, but in the end I was just disappointed.
tangledthread on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book bogged down about 2/3's of the way through. The story as a fictionalized account of the real Sarajevo Haggadah was interesting but a bit contrived. This author has done better writing and story construction in previous works (The Year of Wonders & March)
Kirconnell on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A good book, but not her best in my opinion. I liked Year of Wonders much better. In this one she uses the device of flashbacks to earlier periods in history to explain various articles found in an ancient haggadah. A clever device, but I thought Vreeland used it more skillfully and with better effect in Girl in Hyacinth Blue. Still, it's worth a read.