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.
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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.