Thursday, May 2, 2013

People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks

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.

My take: 4 looks
I was immediately drawn into this story. There was no acclimation for me at all, I was immediately involved in the conservation of this rare and treasured sacred text. I immediately liked Hanna, immediately mistrusted Ozren and I flowed from present to past as Brooks carried me on the gentle flow of a well-written story.

The back stories are set so that the most recent is recounted, bouncing back to the modern age, and back again to an earlier time. I couldn't wait to see how far back the story would take me, how the characters dissolved into one another, and how the continuous thread of the Haggadah affected the people whom it touched.

Confused by references and comparisons to Dan Brown's The DaVinci Code, I didn't see the two as closely related at all. This book was full of rich and timeless stories, developed to explain possibilities. Historical fiction at its best. I see Brown's book as more of a conspiracy novel, full of mystery and suspense. Not inferior, just very different.

This book is beautifully written and is highly recommended.

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