Tuesday, October 15, 2013

People of the Book

People of the Book
Geraldine Brooks

Published 2008

First Sentence
"I might as well say, right from the jump: it wasn't my usual kind of job."
Publisher's Description:

From the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of March, the journey of a rare illuminated prayer book through centuries of war, destruction, theft, loss, and love.
Dear Reader,

This book was just beautiful. I wasn’t sure what to expect from it (I hadn’t read any of the publisher’s blurb; this was another serendipitous library Overdrive discovery), but it surprised me in such a lovely way. I audiobooked it, and of course the first thing I noticed was the heavy Australian accent of the reader (Edwina Wren) - it was very enjoyable to listen to, I thought! And her later voices -- accents from Serbian to British to American -- were also very impressive, at least to my untrained ear.

In any case, the book itself was this gorgeous narration which wove back and forth between Hannah’s (a book restorer) and the book itself’s story, intermingling like the rich plaits of a thick braid. Hannah has been hired to work on the Sarajevo Haggadah, which is a real book, and is truly surrounded in mystery and intrigue: both regarding its survival through the ages (through numerous Jewish persecutions) and its contents. However, it is important to remember that Brooks’ story is only a fiction she has crafted around the questions which the book raises. Still, she devises a very clever explanation of the book’s travels and experiences, and it is a joy to listen to her storytelling. Brooks knows her history, particularly that of Eastern Europe, and I found it fascinating to learn more about the histories of the people who lived in the area from the mid-fifteenth century all the way up to the present day. While keeping in mind it is a novel, it was still chock full of historically-specific details. Brooks’ characters truly came to life for me.

One of the main surprises in the book is the truth about Hannah’s own past, which she discovers as she follows the trail of the book’s history through several countries. While I certainly didn’t see the twist coming, I also thought it interesting that the revelation didn’t change the way Hannah interacted with the book, or make her quest for the truth more dear. I thought it improbable that things didn’t change more significantly for her.

One truly lovely thing about this book was how its point wasn’t simply to explain the Haggadah’s origins, but also to build bridges between nationalities, religions, and backgrounds of all sorts. I felt that the Haggadah’s story represented peacefulness and connection, both in its flashback stories as well as in Hannah’s present story. Books are, at their heart, about communicating between people, even if those two people live in a very different time and place. Thus, the novel did a great job of that, as did the religious tome within. This was truly another book for book-lovers. I’ve been devouring a lot of those recently; some recommended favorites are Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore (Robin Sloan) and A Novel Bookstore (Laurence Cossé).

My most favorite part of the book, though, might have been the dedication: “For the librarians”! Hurray!


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