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'People of the Book' by Geraldine Brooks - Book Review

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'People of the Book' by Geraldine Brooks

'People of the Book' - Courtesy Viking

The Bottom Line

In People of the Book, Pulitzer Prize-winning Author Geraldine Brooks presents a fictional history of the Sarajevo Haggadah -- an important Jewish book that originated in fifteenth-century Spain. People of the Book is a set of stories about the book's survival, woven together through the story of a conservationist who is trying to unlock the mysteries of the book in the mid-1990s. Brooks skillfully weaves fact and fiction to create compelling tales; however, the overarching story in People of the Book leaves something to be desired.

Pros

  • Brooks creates compelling characters and interesting stories to fill in the history of the Haggadah
  • 'People of the Book' seems well researched, bringing to life far off times and places
  • The story provides an opening to discussing relations between Judaism, Islam and Christianity

Cons

  • The overarching story about Hanna Heath is not nearly as compelling as the historical accounts
  • Brooks seems to force the moral of the story in the Heath narratives
  • The suspenseful ending is out of place and underdeveloped

Description

  • Little is known about the history of the Sarajevo Haggadah, a prayer book with paintings that are atypical for Jewish art
  • Brooks imagines the history of this real-life book, and tells these stories in 'People of the Book'
  • The story unfolds as Hanna Heath, a conservationist, researches artifacts she found in the book's binding in the mid-1990s
  • 'People of the Book' was first published by Viking in January 2008

Guide Review - 'People of the Book' by Geraldine Brooks - Book Review

People of the Book produced a lot of buzz when it was first published, often being called the next Da Vinci Code. However, even though People of the Book is a work of historical fiction that delves into mysteries involving art and religion, it is not a page-turner like Brown's books. It is, also, much better writing than anything Brown has produced, reflecting the fact that Geraldine Brooks excels at literary fiction.

The story begins in 1996, when Hanna Heath is offered a job conserving the Sarajevo Haggadah after it is discovered intact, even though many feared it had perished in the shelling of Sarajevo's libraries. Heath finds artifacts in the book's binding, and Brooks uses each of these as a segues into stories about the book's past, telling of the people who risked their lives to save it from Nazis, the Inquisition and personal tragedies. Each of these narratives is well-told, and you will not want to put the book down in the middle of one.

Unfortunately, Hanna's story -- which is meant to bind the chapters together -- is not nearly as compelling. I often stopped reading at these parts and didn't pick it up again for days. Towards the end of the book, a Dan Brown-like twist is thrown into the Hanna narrative. This, however, feels out of place and is not well-developed.

Brooks also seems to use the Hanna chapters to make sure readers understand her point-- that "the book has survived the same human disaster over and over again... this need to demonize 'the other'... Inquisition, Nazis, extremist Serb nationalists...same old, same old" (195). I prefer, however, not to be hit over the head with the moral. The theme was clear enough in the stories of the people who saved the book, and would have been better left for the reader to interpret.

Though these issues disappointed me, the individual stories still make it a worthwhile read.

User Reviews

Reviews for this section have been closed.

 2 out of 5
The People of the Book, Member LibbyCohenimrie

After waiting for some weeks to purchase this book I was overjoyed when finally it arrived in my bookstore. Sadly I was disappointed with the whole thing. Parts were mildly interesting but on the whole it just didn't hang together for me. I did persist to the end and am glad I did, just to be able to feel justified to comment on it. A pity as the writing itself was ok. Just disappointed I guess after waiting with such anticipation.

19 out of 23 people found this helpful.

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