Saturday, March 10, 2012

Review: People of the Book

People of the Book is the kind of literary novel with historical mystery overtones that I love to get swept away in.  And Geraldine Brooks delivers in spades.

The story centers around a real-life 15th Century illuminated Hebrew manuscript called the Sarajevo Haggadah.  In 1996, Hanna Heath, a rare book conservator from Australia, is called to post-war Sarajevo to inspect and repair the Haggadah for a UN-sponsored museum exhibition designed to highlight the shared history and culture of Bosnia's Jews, Christians, and Muslims.

Using clues Hanna finds in the book -- including a tiny white hair, an insect wing, a wine stain, and missing cover clasps -- Brooks splits the narrative into Hanna's investigation and independent stories of the manuscript's history.  These stories move back in time from World War II, to fin de siècle Vienna, to the Venice ghetto of the 1500s, to the book's 15th Century creation in Spain.

As with many entertaining historical novels, the characters depicted sometimes demonstrated modern sensibilities, no matter when their scenes take place.  But the story moves along so quickly and is so generally engrossing, that this minor flaw is easy to ignore. 


If you would like your review of this book, or any of Geraldine Brooks's other novels, listed here, please leave a comment with a link and I will add it.


People of the Book counts for several challenges I'm working on: the European Reading Challenge, the Eastern European Reading Challenge, my TBR challenges, and the What's In a Name? Challenge.


  1. Oh, this is one of my favorite books. I love the way Brooks traces the book's history based on such different clues. But I know what you mean about character's modern sensibilities in history fiction, but at least it wasn't too blatant here.

  2. This sounds fascinating. Must put it on my list.

    I was reading a memoir yesterday and the writer mentioned Powell's book store in Portland. He also mentioned the roses, and how Portland had changed. It's a new book, "The Great Northern Express" by Howard Frank Mosher. I'll probably review it tomorrow.

  3. I read this last year and really enjoyed it. It made my top 10.

  4. Oh man, I loved this book when I read it in 2008 (here is my review: ). Such rich and engrossing writing!

  5. I really liked this book when I read it 3 or 4 years ago, but as time goes by I love it more. It is one of those really great books that sticks in your mind for years, and you just might have to read again some day.

  6. I loved this book! I also loved Year of Wonders, and last month I read Foreign Correspondence, Brooks's memoir. I'm hoping to get to March and Caleb's Crossing later this year!

  7. Oh my, this is the first time I heard about this book and it went straight to my TBR list. Can't believe I've never heard about this. It has everything I want, the Balkans, old books or manuscripts, Australian people, the UN, Spain... how have I never encountered this before? Thanks for the review! :-D


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