People of the Book
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Customer Reviews:

  • Blahhh
    I read about 20 pages of this book and had to return it to the library. I'm glad I didn't buy it. I could not connect with the main character and really couldn't connect with her after she slept with a man she met only hours earlier. No thanks. And this was written by a Pulitzer Prize winner? Wow....more info
  • A fun and fascinating read
    I couldn't put this book down, it was so engaging. From a critical perspective, the book had some distracting deficiencies in character development and believability, as well as some real plot stretches, but I really enjoyed it anyway....more info
  • Spiteful
    I was an enthusiastic hardcover buyer of this book when it hit the shelves.
    I got through the book to see how she resolved her "issues."
    Every depiction of her Jewish characters are full of negative Jewish stereotypes.
    I am astonished her publishers didn't see her book as the work of an anti-semitic rant. JUST HATEFUL!!!
    This book reminded me why I prefer biographies!...more info
  • A Skein of Stories
    Sarajevo, 1966. As the Bosnian conflict is finally winding down, a priceless treasure emerges from the rubble -- an illuminated Haggadah or Jewish prayer book, rescued by a Moslem librarian. Pulitzer prizewinner Geraldine Brooks takes this real event as the start of an imaginary reconstruction of the history of this manuscript back to its creation in medieval Spain. Her journey visits many places in many periods, and also illuminates the relationship between Jewish people and those of other faiths over the centuries.

    The protagonist, Dr. Hanna Heath, is a book conservator. She is Australian, like Brooks herself; after posing so brilliantly as a Brit in YEAR OF WONDERS and as an American in MARCH, it is fun to see the author return to her native lingo. Hanna engages on a fascinating analysis of the book and the substances adhering to it, discovering clues that trigger the successive phases of her reconstruction. With each, the novel leaps back in time, introducing a new set of characters and a new setting. We have Sarajevo under the Nazis in 1940, Vienna in the era of Freud, the Venice of the original ghetto, Tarragona at the start of the Spanish Inquisition, and Seville in the waning years of the "Convivencia," in which people of many faiths -- Jew, Moslem, and Christian -- lived briefly together in harmony. All three religions, which criss-cross throughout the narrative, are "People of the Book," sharing the same early scriptures, hence the deeper meaning of the novel's title.

    I have to say, though, that the novel was a disappointment after the two that preceded it. In those, Brooks excelled at developing the inner life of a character over time. But the short-story format here denies her the necessary space; her characters are interesting, but we don't get to live with them. It all seems a bit like a whirlwind Highlights of History tour in a time machine, that happens to hit each port of call at the exact time that something famous is happening. The one thread that connects it all together, Hanna's own story, never gathers sufficient momentum. Hanna seems designed to please readers of Dan Brown or Michael Gruber; she is too impossibly smart, too sexy, too tormented in her private life to be entirely believable. She makes an engaging tour guide to interesting times and places, but Geraldine Brooks can do much more than that....more info
  • Worthwhile
    The interweaving was skilled, although the characters, at times fell flat, and the events predictable.

    I also prefer a lighter touch. The best example of tackling a serious subject without a professorial POV is "Yiddishe Mamas: The Truth About the Jewish Mother." It is written by Marnie Winston-Macauley, author of the spectacular calendar series, A Little Joy, A Little Oy (2009).

    Although one is fiction, while the other non-fiction, the tonal difference is worth looking at.A Little Joy, A Little Oy: A Banquet of Jewish Humor and Wisdom 2009 Day-to-Day Calendar

    Jewish Book MavenYiddishe Mamas: The Truth About the Jewish Mother...more info
  • Jewish history through the story of an ancient prayer book
    This 2008 novel is a natural best seller. The author is a fine writer and has won a Pulitzer prize for her recent novel "March" which is set in America during the Civil War. I've read all four of her other books and love her early ones the best, which are more journalistic.

    People of the Book is based on a true story of a real book known as the Sarajevo Haggadah. This Hebrew prayer book was discovered in Sarajevo and probably was created in the 15th century. The author did amazingly scrupulous research, learning the tools of the trade of book restoration as well as the history of the Jews through the centuries. Through the first person narrative of an Australian book restorer, Hanna Heath, we get to learn about the city of Sarajevo and its recent violent history as well as the fascinating story of the book through the ages. These stories, of course, are fictional. Each one is complete in itself as the book passes from hand to hand through the centuries. I learned more than I ever thought was possible for me to know about the art of book restoring. And, there is also the story of Hanna Heath herself, as she comes to terms with her own personal history.

    The book is a fast read. The author is a craftsperson of incredible skill. I loved it but must say that I could never call it a work of art, but rather, a work of journalistic skill. However, I will continue to be a Geraldine Brooks fan and look forward to her next book.
    ...more info
  • Loved the people but not the protagonist
    Geraldine Brooks's encyclopedic knowledge of the recondite art of preserving and restoring extremely old manuscripts is the theme that links this imaginative tale of disparate times, people and places. And it works wonderfully. (It works a treat, as they'd say in Australia) It's really all we need, and one rather wishes that Brooks had dispensed with her painful, mother-obsessed narrator Hanna and just gotten on with the gripping stories of Lola, Franz Hirschfeldt, Giovanni, David Ben Shoushan and the rest of them. But this is a minor quibble. Brooks has a fine grasp of time and place, and her prose delights. And perhaps I'm being too hard on poor Hanna. She's a narrative device, after all. But she's clunky, and she gets in the way. That having been said, by no means let it put you off. And, hey! Maybe you'll like Hanna. If you don't, skip those bits, and savor the rest. ...more info
  • A Very Interesting Story
    Our book club selected this book and I didn't know anything about it when I bought it. I enjoyed it very much. It is full of interesting characters and the way the story is woven together was very well done. I even learned a little history along the way!...more info
  • A 10
    It has been a few months since I finished the novel, but the characters are still fresh in my mind and the plot, set over the course of several centuries, still captivates me. When I finished reading the novel, I was still having, "ah-hah" moments, having just then put together loose threads of the story.
    In other reviews, details are given about the story line itself. If those alone do not captivate you, then read this novel to see how well Geraldine Brooks can craft the English language into a poignant and vivid novel.
    This was the first book by Geraldine Brooks that I have read and I cannot wait to read her other works. ...more info
  • OK, but not a favorite
    I just read People of the Book on a one-week vacation. It certainly held my interest and was a quick read. But I felt the book could have been more. While it was rescued repeatedly, the Haggadah also resided for many years in safe places. I would have liked her to focus on some interesting positive times rather go from one disaster to another. I am Jewish so I certainly understand the plight of the Jews through history. But I got tired of reading of political/religious massacres and wished that every vignette did not have to end with wrenching violence....more info
  • Not a person of this book
    The ad copy of Geraldine Brooks's Pulitzer-Prize winning novel, March, speaks to her ability to conjure up the emotional intensity of a past world. I will trust that she did this, for I'm afraid her effort in People of the Book does not inspire me to read her more acclaimed work. While some of the episodes are intense enough in People of the Book to make me slightly engaged with the characters and their dilemmas, for the most part I felt pained at the lack of emotion and at the condescension of the story I was reading.

    As readers are probably aware, the book alternates between the first-person narrative of a late twentieth-century scholar and restorer of books (Hannah Heath) and the imagined events of several historical moments related to a precious haggadah. We learn in a series of episodes in reverse chronology how the book came to be and to be where it is in the present day of Hannah Heath's narrative. Many of these episodes include plots where people's very lives are changed and even destroyed by their intense desire to protect so meaningful a religious text. This conception and construction is what attracted me to the book: I love stories about books and am an avid fan not only of history but of the history of book production and illustration. Yet despite my attraction to the subject, the episodes in this novel pass as little more than exercises in erudition. The historical set pieces are not constructed as short stories--with their own narrative arc--and thus they develop with little opportunity for us to engage in the emotional lives of the characters. This is especially troubling when you consider that most of the episodes concern some of the worst atrocities in history, including the Holocaust, the Inquisition, and the practice of slavery in early modern Europe. What these historical episodes do include is a wealth of historical reference, language and allusion, and yet this is exactly what bothered me: so much information was given for the sake of giving information, and not for the sake of emotional intensity, that I couldn't help feel that I was reading a book where I was supposed to learn how much the author knew rather than to feel how much the characters mattered.

    Part of my sense of the condescension of these historical moments derives admittedly from the present-day sections of the book. While Hannah Heath speaks in the most openminded way of multicultural sensitivity, everything about her life is one of high-class elitism. She flies first class because of a special benefactor, jets around from London to Vienna to Sarajevo to Boston, lunches at Indian restaurants and describes Harvard square, and has as parents an internationally famous painter father and an internationally known neurosurgeon mother. When Hannah finally meets up with an israeli agent to bring together events to close the novel, you have the unsettling feeling you are in a spy parody and a long way from the impetus of the book to honor those who dedicated their lives to the beauty and cultural sensitivity that book represents. One example of the sources of my uneasiness might help make my point: at one moment in the narrative, there is a phone call that confuses Hannah because the person calling--a doctor treating an emergency case--assumes that she is a physician and speaks to her in the technical language of emergency care. It seems that Hannah is listed as next of kin in this emergency situation as "Dr. Heath." I don't know about you, but how many Ph.D.'s out there actually are identified on such forms as "doctor"? I know dozens of Ph.D.'s (and physicians too for that matter), and none of them use their titles outside of work, and even there only when necessary. It's a small point, but the whole novel has that tone of elitism, one I couldn't even shake in the historical moments when we were supposed to feel for the simple and downtrodden who gave so much for their beliefs, their families and those they loved. I wish I could recommend this book more heartily--and I'm glad that Ms. Brooks found a way to write what must be an inspiring novel in March--but I closed the book with relief that I would not have to be talked down to any more. If you want to learn about disparate moments of history and their practices related to book production, have a go at this; if you want to be emotionally moved and inspired, you might need to go elsewhere....more info
  • A very imaginative imagined history of a book
    PotB moves back and forth between the present -- in which a modern-day conservator is given the task of reconstructing the life of a particular book -- and various stages of the past in which that life unfolded. Those sections that treat of the imagined past of this real-life book (the Sarajevo Haggadah) are brilliantly imagined. I assume there isn't a whit of truth in GB's telling, but so be it. This is fiction, and fiction of a high order. Those sections that treat of the present, and the life and times of the conservator in question, on the other hand, are less artfully executed. I found this character to be rather whiny in general -- not a character I particularly cared for. GB would have produced a finer book had she created an alternative present or avoided the present altogether, or taken an impersonal approach to it. That said, the present looms far less large in PotB than the past, and the latter is handled with terrific skill, sensitivity, and aplomb. PotB may not be perfect, but it's certainly first-rate. ...more info
  • Wonderful book with a few problems
    The book could roughly be considered a set of short stories with a single thread weaving them together. From the begging you meet Hanna she is a nice enough girl, probably the lest interesting character throughout the book. She analysis the Haggadah and you spend the rest of the book following her around the globe getting items she found in the book analyzed by various experts. There is an ongoing story about her life including her relationship with her mother and with the museum curator who preserved the haggadah during the Bosnian wars. There is a twist concerning the haggadah near the very end of the book (the last 40 pages), but honestly I don't think it was completely necessary. It seemed somewhat forced, although I have to say I enjoyed the situations it created.

    The important part of the book are the stories intermixed with the work of Hanna. For every item that she is having analyzed there is a story included that gives a possible explanation for the particular item to have been present. These stories all promptly feature the oppression of the Jewish people. This creates a very depressing feel through out the book. Honestly when one of my friends suggested the book she told me that she didn't like it because it was a little too depressing. I did not find it to be particularly bad, but I can understand if you are not in the mood than it could be particularly bad. I enjoyed reading how the book survived through all the various challenges it faced, I only wish I could have spent more time with each story (possibly a whole book for each part).

    Overall I greatly enjoyed this book, I would recommend it to anyone who is interested in the journey one book can have through the world. I would also reccommend that if you read this book you should do some of your own research because not all the information is spot on....more info
  • A great historical mystery
    This is the story of the Sarajevo Haggadah, a real book that has a mysterious 500-year history. When Geraldine Brooks learned about it and was intrigued by the mysteries it held, she did what most writers would do; she made it up. This novel goes back and forth between present and past, showing the bits of evidence that a contemporary book conservator finds in its pages and then shows the reader where those things came from; a butterfly wing, a wine stain, a white cat hair, etc. I thought it dragged a little in the middle but picked up again at the end. ...more info
  • Such a disappointment....
    I could not even finish it. Formulaic, cartoon characters, predictable plot. Our protagonist book conservationist has questions, and we get snippets from the past to answer them. Nothing original, nothing enlightening, nothing transformative. After a third of the book I did not care about any of characters, or the book. I've been waiting a long time to get this on my kindle and not I'm sorry I wasted my time. ...more info
  • Good, with a touch of romance novel
    I haven't finished this book yet, but I'm about half way through. I love the parts about the book itself and the history of it. Brooks does a wonderful job drawing the reader in. However, I just roll my eyes when I come to a section about the book historian's love life. It's written like a trashy romance novel. Sometimes I wonder if the same author wrote both parts, they are so drastically different....more info
  • Poor account of history
    It was difficult to decide what was more disappointing: the poor narrative or the incredibly poor knowledge of the history in general, and of the region Ms. Brooks writes about in her "People of the Book". Since a lot has been said about the former in other reviews, I will comment on the latter.

    On p. 67 you will find a hilarious sentence ending with "...,yet following the forms of Petrarchan sonnets that had been carried inland from Diocletian's court on the Dalmatian coast." Diocletian retired to his palace on Dalmatian coast in 305 A.D. and died there in 311 A.D. Following his death, the palace was used as an administrative center and the governor's residence until, in 615, it became a refuge for the residents of Salona when their city was sacked by the Avars. In other words, there has been no "court" after Diocletion's death. And Petrarch... well he wasn't born until a thousand years later - in 1304. He wrote his most famous sonnets, those to Laura, between 1327 and 1368.

    Another "pearl" from the page 199 (Venice, 1609): the mysterious Do?a Reyna de Serena plans to move to the Ottoman Empire..."They say the city of Ragusa is very lovely - not so lovely as Venice, to be sure, but at least it will be an honest life." The citizens of Dubrovnik, or lovely Ragusa would be horrified at this claim. They are namely very proud of the fact that the tiny city-state of Ragusa successfully balanced its sovereignty between the interests of Venice and the Ottoman Empire from the 14th century until 1808, when marshal Marmont abolished the republic and integrated its territory into the Illyrian provinces within the Napoleonic Empire. In other words, Ragusa has never been a part of the Ottoman Empire, although it welcomed many Jews exiled from Spain and Portugal....more info
  • A seamless and rich story throughout
    I scouted around quite a bit looking for a strong, substantive read--one that I hoped would be adult, intelligent, and with some heft to it. There is so much over-touted, really pathetically bad reads that are getting the lion's share of attention these days--including some prize winners, so I wasn't so sure. Well, I knew of this author from her Pulitzer prize from a few years ago, but I had never read anything by Ms. Brooks until I got my hands on this, her latest.

    PEOPLE OF THE BOOK totally made up for some of the lousy reads of the past year or so, that's for certain. This is a rich and intelligent narrative that takes the reader into a vast and intricate tale that runs through medieval and current-day Europe and beyond. Many have re-iterated the plot here, so I will spare you that. The very breadth and scope of the story--the contrasts and complexities of these religions and cultures, and the way they each supported one another made fascinating reading, but also, proved an apt lesson that we could learn from today.

    Great book. I look forward to reading more from this smart writer.
    ...more info
  • People of the Book
    Too many foreign words without explanations of their meanings. A lot of Hebrew practices unexplained. Skipping back and forth between ages was confusing.
    ...more info
  • 4 1/2 STARS - Such a well written book
    I enjoyed Geraldine Brooks' previous novels which is the main reason I wanted to read this one. Honestly I didn't think I would like it because following a trail to the origins of a book didn't sound all that appealing to me. Boy was I wrong. This was a wonderful book. I was surprised how exciting and intriguing the book was. I found it captivating and poignant.

    I feel like I learned a lot and was challenged to look up more information about the various time periods and maps of those times. Brooks did a fantastic job developing her characters and wove a story that was amazing.

    I WOULD DEFINITELY RECOMMEND IT - ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS I'VE READ IN A WHILE

    KUDOS TO GERALDINE BROOKS!...more info
  • Geraldine Brooks Doesn't Disappoint
    People of the Book is a fascinating read by Geraldine Brooks. It traces the history of the ancient book which the author is researching. Many lives were part of this history and I couldn't put it down. It made me question whether religion is the cause for such brutal behavior by humans or if humans basically have a brutal streak and use religion for an expression of it....more info
  • engrossing, beautiful story for all book lovers
    The Sarajevo Haggadah of Pesach, one of the most mysterious and interesting Haggadot in the world, is at the center of Geraldine Brooks' novel "People of the Book".
    Haggadah, which means "telling" is a rabbinic exegesis the Jewish liberation from Egypt, as told in the Exodus book of the Torah, fulfilling the scriptural commandment to Jews to "tell your son" about this crucial event. It is used to set the order of the Passover Seder. The Sarajevo Haggadah, the oldest of the Sephardic Passover Haggadot, dating back to fourteenth century, is unusual - it is illuminated with beautiful, colorful illustrations, which is against the religious rule, forbidding making images of humans and animals. One of the illustrations shows the Jewsish family and a young, black woman at the same table, a puzzling and surprising picture. This unique property and the book's artistic value raise interest of many people, not only from the world of book conservation, but also political and religious fractions.

    When in 1996 thirty-year-old Hanna Heath, an extraordinarily gifted, Australian master book restorer, gets an urgent phone call from her teacher, Amitai, at 2 am, she is just annoyed, but the news is exciting. She is summoned to Sarajevo to assess the authenticity of the Sarajevo Haggadah, which has just resurfaced after being lost for years, found and rescued by the Muslim librarian, Ozren Karaman.

    Hanna begins working on the Haggadah with mixed feelings - she is in Bosnia in the middle of a religion-based conflict, closely watched by bank employees, bodyguards and UN officials, who distract her. She is also excited by the prospect of learning something about the history of the mysterious book. She carefully mends the booka and finds little details, which can be helpful: missing clasps, an insect's wing, a white hair, and a red stain. Pursuing these clues, she travels to Vienna and Boston, and learns a little about the journey of the book, making exciting hypotheses, which not always are true...

    Because of the novel's construction, the reader learns about the Haggadah more than Hanna would ever know. The chapter alternate between Hanna's studies and her point of view, and the history of the Haggadah, which brings the reader farther and farther back in time, starting with WWII, when the Jews are forced out of Bosnia, moving to the 19th century Vienna, when the book was re-bound, then to Venice of 1609, Spain of 1480, and finally Seville of 1409, getting to the core of the mystery of the illuminations. Each of the historical chapters is a gem of a story in itself, capturing the spirit of time and place, and introducing remarkable characters, each carrying a secret of their own. Based on facts about the miracle of the Sarajevo Haggadah's survival through the ages, Geraldine Brooks has woven a wonderful fictional story - or one of the versions of the truth.

    Hanna's story, which frames the history of Haggadah, is also not banal. Hanna discovers herself in a process of working on the Haggadah, finds and comes to terms with the love of her life, revises her relationship with her emotionally distant neurosurgeon mother, and learns of her father's family.

    "People of the Book" is a lot better than Zafon's "The Shadow of the wind" and infinitely better than anything by Dan Brown (in my opinion, it is similar to neither of these books, but I know that it has been compared to them). I devoured it in two wonderful evenings and would recommend it to anyone....more info
  • Valuable Historical Fiction
    People of the Book: is a novel by Geraldine Brooks. The Pulitzer Prize-wining author, with much historical research, has imagined the various situations and trials and interactions of people who help save The Sarajevo Haggadah, a precious treasure of Judaism. Through hundreds of years, this hand-scribed and lavishly illustrated book, which teaches part of the observances of the Passover celebration of Jewish homes, has been saved from extinction. During periods when books are burned, all other copies of The Book were destroyed, and Jews were killed, the book is hidden by different people, some of whom are not Jewish, even people of Islam and Christian faiths. Each person into whose care the book falls has his or her life endangered if the book were to be found. The real book is discovered and saved through the efforts and sleuth of a young woman called to a library to make a speech and dedicate the new display of the long-lost Haggadah. Although I felt this novel was a bit difficult to read, it is a well-plotted historical fiction that puts the reader in the places of possible persecution. People of the Book made me realize how fortunate I am to live in a time and place where I can read or worship as I choose. The book if very thought-provoking and pertinent to the world's current situation, well-worth a read....more info
  • Not as much as I'd hoped...
    I have read one other book by Geraldine Brooks, Year of Wonders, which I liked, so I had high expectations for this book.

    When I first started reading People of the Book I was sure it was on track to be one of my top reads of the year. However, somewhere in the middle the story just started to lose momentum for me and I started to have trouble keeping the different storylines straight.

    I love the concept of a story told about an ancient text and I felt like I got a good snapshot of what was going on in each time period I visited. For that reason alone, I am glad I read this book. I love history. However, I found that the characters in some instances were not what I was hoping they would be and I was disappointed.

    Maybe my expectations were too high but this was just okay to me....more info
  • Enjoyable read, like a mini-version of Michener's Source
    I loved reading this book: it is both historical and interesting. The construct of the book is nearly identical to that of James Michener's expansive "The Source", where scientists at a fictitious tell (archeological mound)in Israel excavate artifacts dating back to 10,000 BC -- and a story is made up around each artifact. "People of the Book" is not quite as grandiose and because I found it a bit copy-catty I wouldn't say it's a GREAT book; but it's still a well written, creative and enjoyable read. Good choice for a book club!...more info
  • contemporary scenes good, historical scenes competent at best
    This is an enjoyable novel. In Hanna, Brooks has a strong, interesting character. The contemporary scenes are well done and the plotting is good. Unfortunately, the historical scenes, with the exception of war time Yugoslavia, are at best competent; perhaps, if you are unfamiliar with the history, you will get more out of them. ...more info
  • So frustrating!
    The idea for the structure of the book combines so beautifully with the topic -- the real story of this haggadah -- that the atrocious execution is all the more frustrating! The characters are uniformly cliche caricatures with implausible motivations. It's as though the author wrote it with a Hollywood agent in mind. ...more info
  • Elegant mystery
    For everyone who loves books, this is an elegant book with the magical touch of Geraldine Brooks. I recommend it highly as she build a great deal of suspense without car chases and liberties with history. I found it to be a highly satisfying read....more info
  • People of the Book
    Enjoyed the book but was put off by the many Australian expressions and words used by the author. Would have preferred more idiomatic English. Can see why the book would appeal to Book Clubs. Many interesting point to ponder....more info
  • Fascinating story
    In 1996 a rare and beautifully illuminated Haggadah from 15th century Spain has been found and Hanna Heath, a rare book expert, has been called into examine it. During her inspection of the book Hanna finds an insect wing, a wine stain mixed with blood, salt crystals, probably from tears, and a white hair. Hanna collects these items in order to determine the books history; author Brooks uses them as a jumping off point to tell the story of the Haggadah and how it has survived for 600 years.

    Traveling back from the present to the creation of the book we meet those people who had a hand in the creation and often desecration of this book, we also meet heroes and villains from all walks of life who play a role in the books surviving. Inter-mixed with the past stories is a current day story involving Hanna and her mother, an unloving and self-absorbed surgeon with whom Hanna has a contentious relationship, and Hanna's love affair with a tortured Muslim librarian, one of the latest saviors of the book.

    I really loved Year of Wonders by Brooks, and was really looking forward to this book. Happily I was not disappointed as I love the way she wove all these disparate stories into a poignant story of love and hate throughout the centuries, right up to the present day. Excellent story, fabulous book....more info