People of the Book

People of the Book

A Novel

Book - 2008
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A fictionalized account of the turbulent history of the Sarajevo Haggadah, an illuminated manuscript which has survived into the twentieth century thanks to people of various faiths who risked their lives to safeguard it. Hanna Heath, a manuscript conservator hired to restore the manuscript in 1996 Sarajevo, finds and pursues clues to crucial moments in the book's history.
Publisher: New York, N.Y. : Viking, 2008
ISBN: 9780670018215
067001821X
9781439598689
1439598681
Branch Call Number: x
Characteristics: 372 pages : map ; 25 cm

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aforrest_0 Jun 19, 2018

I liked this story. It was right up my alley -- a mix of mystery and historical fiction and based around an actual and historical book! I will definitely look for more of Geraldine Brooks' work in the future.

d
dnk
Feb 04, 2018

The story centers on Hanna, the book conservationist who arrives in Bosnia to restore the book in 1996, and those who helped create the book intertwine and unfold backwards. Hanna, like Bosnia, like much of the world, is emotionally worn from an unloving childhood and even as an adult struggles with her mother. She finds out that she is not just studying the book but also aspects of herself; she is very much like the neurosurgeon mother she wars with, who claims that she doesn't just save lives, she saves souls. So, too, does Hanna- she doesn't just save things, she traces its story so that the creators as well as the creations may live on.

We come into the story- even the book- knowing that for all of the race-baiting hatred fomented over hundreds of years, many areas of the world lived in relative tolerance for long stretches of time, and it was during these periods that beautiful and learned creations were made possible. The accidents or "flaws" in the book help tell that human story, all of the chapters laced with varying degrees of the desire to illuminate the world with something better when even mere survival is not guaranteed. Zahra, the Muslim woman who is sold into slavery but becomes a magnificent artist in the employ of an emir and later uses her art to open the world to a deaf-mute boy; Ruth, the secret scholar in Spain of 1492 who manages to salvage not only her father's final piece of work in the haggadah but also her nephew despite the Inquisition and the Explulsion Order; the priest Vistorini and his friend/nemesis rabbi Aryeh of Venice who are united in their temptations, desperations, love of learning and, though unacknowledged, their past; the Jewish-Viennese doctor who is trying to make sense of the decaying world he lives in, symbolized by his growing list of patients who are literally rotting from the inside out with syphilis, including a desperate book-binder who falls back onto anti-Semitism to explain why his world is slipping away; Serif Kamal, the learned man of languages and books who risks his life to save not only books but people from the teeth of the Nazis; Lola, the poor, uneducated Jewish girl who loses everything not once but twice but lives to restore the book to it's rightful place; and Ozren Karaman, who risks his life to save the book for the future of his war-torn city even while the city destroys his family.

All of the historical characters jump off the page and demanded that I hear and understand their stories. I couldn't put it down until I had done so. It was, then, with disappointment that I returned to the present-day character of Hanna. Compared to the people whose stories she (partially) uncovered, Hanna seemed emotionally immature and oddly unsympathetic. These characters were holding their breath and walking a tightrope to survive without compromising all of their values. A woman of both means and education who was simply *unhappy* was a let down, and the happy ending at the end was unsatisfying.

s
SCL_BookClubs
May 10, 2017

SCL library Monday afternoon bookclub - April 3, 2017
One of the members said everyone should read this book because we don't read about history enough. The history buffs really enjoyed it and they all agreed that the modern story (Hannah) was not as well done as the history. Some said that it was hard to get into and they would not have continued if it wasn't for bookclub. The group gave it 4 stars.

s
sgcf
Mar 26, 2017

I liked this story, epic in its time span, as it searches out the history of a 500 year old Illuminated Jewish manuscript. Brooks imaginatively crafts the journey of a book conservationist who researches the little droppings in the old book, then uses each as a springboard for separate stories throughout the manuscript’s history.
I really resonated with this quote: "You’ve got a society where people tolerate difference … and then the need to demonize ‘the other’ rears up and smashes society. Inquisition, Nazis, extremist Serb nationalists … the book bears witness to all that." So sad the way this circle wearily repeats itself as evidenced in the daily news. An illuminating read.

e
EmilyEm
Aug 26, 2016

A young Australian book conservator is tapped to work on a historic prayer book, a Jewish Haggadah, in Sarajevo at the end of the Bosnian conflict. Alternating chapters tell the story of the book’s creation and journeys from 1400s Spain to the time of her work.

I’d skipped this book when first published even though Brooks’ work is popular. It just kept coming up on ‘you’ll like’ suggestions. So, I’ve read it. While engaging at times it has the flaws all her work has for me. Is this a story or is it journalism? The ending stretched credibility.

jesking Apr 27, 2016

The plot was sheer genius! A book as a main character - the people who were a part of the book's life the plot! Genius! But writing a book in this way left the characters a little flat and if you did become attached, their place in the story was over quickly. Feel a little guilty saying I got a little bored about halfway through because the characters all went through some sort of horrid experience and I shouldn't have been bored. But I was. Took me a while to finish this book.

LPL_ShirleyB Oct 09, 2015

This beautiful and complex story features a strong-willed woman antique book conservationist working to uncover the origin of the Sarajevo Haggadah --an illuminated Jewish prayer book. The book survived centuries of greed, politics, and war.

m
michaelroper
Sep 19, 2014

recommended by Bronwen

a
ABenoit
Sep 10, 2014

I really liked it. Looking forward to future novels

The plot is strung together like a series of short stories, and as with that format, often there is an implication of complexity that is not spelled out. The short stories which tell how the found evidence, butterfly wing, hair, etc, always felt incomplete to me. There was no link to how the book might have travelled around Europe through the milenia. This is an interesting look into the science of book binding and preservation of old manuscripts but the protagonist and her conflicted relationship with her mother detract from the gravity of the subject and the tragedy of racism throughout the ages. Not an engaging read, but worth a quick browse because of its technical background.

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BlueBee8279
Jun 05, 2013

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May 29, 2012

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vickeybooks
Apr 09, 2017

One of the best books I have read this year.

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egarofoli
Aug 25, 2012

Publishers Weekly

Reading Geraldine Brooks's remarkable debut novel, Year of Wonders, or more recently March, which won the Pulitzer Prize, it would be easy to forget that she grew up in Australia and worked as a journalist. Now in her dazzling new novel, People of the Book, Brooks allows both her native land and current events to play a larger role while still continuing to mine the historical material that speaks so ardently to her imagination. Late one night in the city of Sydney, Hanna Heath, a rare book conservator, gets a phone call. The Sarajevo Haggadah, which disappeared during the siege in 1992, has been found, and Hanna has been invited by the U.N. to report on its condition. Missing documents and art works (as Dan Brown and Lev Grossman, among others, have demonstrated) are endlessly appealing, and from this inviting premise Brooks spins her story in two directions. In the present, we follow the resolutely independent Hanna through her thrilling first encounter with the beautifully illustrated codex and her discovery of the tiny signs-a white hair, an insect wing, missing clasps, a drop of salt, a wine stain-that will help her to discover its provenance. Along with the book she also meets its savior, a Muslim librarian named Karaman. Their romance offers both predictable pleasures and genuine surprises, as does the other main relationship in Hanna's life: her fraught connection with her mother. In the other strand of the narrative we learn, moving backward through time, how the codex came to be lost and found, and made. From the opening section, set in Sarajevo in 1940, to the final section, set in Seville in 1480, these narratives show Brooks writing at her very best. With equal authority she depicts the struggles of a young girl to escape the Nazis, a duel of wits between an inquisitor and a rabbi living in the Venice ghetto, and a girl's passionate relationship with her mistress in a harem. Like the illustrations in the Haggadah, each of these sections transports the reader to a fully realized, vividly peopled world. And each gives a glimpse of both the long history of anti-Semitism and of the struggle of women toward the independence that Hanna, despite her mother's lectures, tends to take for granted. Brooks is too good a novelist to belabor her political messages, but her depiction of the Haggadah bringing together Jews, Christians and Muslims could not be more timely. Her gift for storytelling, happily, is timeless. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

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