January 25, 2009

People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks

Geraldine Brooks’ novel People of the Book is an amazing, well-crafted story about such eternal themes as betrayal, persecution, temptation and weakness as well as faith, hope, redemption and love.  Book restoration is Australian Dr. Hanna Heath’s life to the exclusion of all else, and she has been given an opportunity to work on the Sarajevo Haggadah, an illuminated Jewish manuscript, supposedly the only of its kind in the world…most Jewish texts only containing words. As Hanna works to restore the Haggadah in Sarajevo, she discovers minute artifacts within the pages…an insect wing, a wine stain, salt crystals and a white hair, each with its own history to reveal.  Hanna travels to colleagues in different places around the world, using their expertise to help her discern the artifacts origins, and as she follows their trail not only is she forced to confront the truth of who she is and where she came from, but her own faith in herself. 
I thought the story was a wonderfully unique and inspiring concept for a book.  The book flows back and forth through history, between Hanna in Sarajevo in Spring of 1996 and different periods in history relating to each artifact. We are shown the life of the Haggadah…and its endurance through time. While the main themes are the persecution and sacrifice of Jews, this story is not confined to Judaism but to each person’s religion or faith, whatever it may or may not be.  At times the stories of the lives relating to the artifacts are wrenching, making the story feel all the more meaningful and real.
People of the Book imparts an appreciation for learning, teaching and knowledge. Brooks goes into much detail about the technical aspects of book restoration and illumination, as well as providing discourse on differing views in religion. I have always found overly descriptive and overly detailed (other examples being Congo by Michael Crichton and Contact by Carl Sagan) books very appealing, although I know a lot of people do not like so much detail.  People of the Book is very nicely balanced between storyline and detailed description. 
I highly recommend People of the Book to anyone and everyone.  It’s a piercing story that will long leave an impact on you.  I am almost reluctant to suggest other recommended reading because I don’t think there are many similar high quality novels out there and if there is I have not yet read them.  If you appreciate fiction moving back and forth through time, as well as the endurance of belief and faith in the face of persecution, I would suggest Labyrinth by Kate Mosse and The Book of Love by Kathleen McGowan.
My Rating: 5.0


  1. I liked this one, but not as much as I enjoyed Brook's other books, March and Year of Wonders.

    I am looking forward to whatever else this author comes up with.

  2. I have Year of Wonders too but have not yet read...looking forward to it. It will be interesting to see what Brooks produces next.