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People of the Book: A Novel
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Amazon Best of the Month, January 2008: One of the earliest Jewish religious volumes to be illuminated with images, the Sarajevo Haggadah survived centuries of purges and wars thanks to people of all faiths who risked their lives to safeguard it. Geraldine Brooks, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of March, has turned the intriguing but sparely detailed history of this precious volume into an emotionally rich, thrilling fictionalization that retraces its turbulent journey. In the hands of Hanna Heath, an impassioned rare-book expert restoring the manuscript in 1996 Sarajevo, it yields clues to its guardians and whereabouts: an insect wing, a wine stain, salt crystals, and a white hair. While readers experience crucial moments in the book's history through a series of fascinating, fleshed-out short stories, Hanna pursues its secrets scientifically, and finds that some interests will still risk everything in the name of protecting this treasure. A complex love story, thrilling mystery, vivid history lesson, and celebration of the enduring power of ideas, People of the Book will surely be hailed as one of the best of 2008. --Mari Malcolm

The ?complex and moving?(The New Yorker) novel by Pulitzer Prize?winner Geraldine Brooks follows a rare manuscript through centuries of exile and war

Inspired by a true story, People of the Book is a novel of sweeping historical grandeur and intimate emotional intensity by an acclaimed and beloved author. Called ?a tour de force?by the San Francisco Chronicle, this ambitious, electrifying work traces the harrowing journey of the famed Sarajevo Haggadah, a beautifully illuminated Hebrew manuscript created in fifteenth-century S pain. When it falls to Hanna Heath, an Australian rare-book expert, to conserve this priceless work, the series of tiny artifacts she discovers in its ancient binding?an insect wing fragment, wine stains, salt crystals, a white hair?only begin to unlock its deep mysteries and unexpectedly plunges Hanna into the intrigues of fine art forgers and ultra-nationalist fanatics.

Customer Reviews:

  • 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
  • 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
  • 3.5 Maybe...
    While perusing in the Costco book section, I stumbled across this book. After taking a sneak peak into the middle of the novel, I was delighted with a colorful tale of woe and misery. I decided to buy the book. But I failed to realize that vibrancy would not make up most of the 200-something pages of the novel.

    The good:
    The assemblage of different characters in each vignette was very endearing. I found within myself sympathy for certain characters, distaste for others, etc. Lovely descriptions overall, I would have loved to see inside the Haggadah.

    The bad:
    Like another reviewer mentioned, I felt as if there was too much Hanna in the novel. At times I really didn't care what she was doing for example, where she was going. Character establishment for her was too drawn out.

    Many people reading this book may be world history buffs or European history buffs, but I am not. I found it horrendously difficult to stay connected/immersed in the book because I had to look on for explanations of all the Australian vernacular dispersed throughout as well as on Google for all the historical references. It got a bit tedious. It may be a bit whiney of me to say, but most of the "great American novels" have footnotes. ...more info
  • Religion is "the opiate of the masses"
    The book reminds me of this Marx quotation. I enjoyed this book but it sure gives a lot sad yet interesting history about how varying religions have repressed others. I thought the story line was unique also.
    The book did have a few slower moving parts. As another reviewer noted, a bit too much time was spent on Hanna's monstrous mom (her character was almost unbelievably mean) and the last chapter I must agree was a bit too much like a Mission Impossible scene. ...more info
  • More Exciting Than I Expected
    People of the Book is based on the story of a famous book, the Sarajevo Haggadah, a fifteenth-century illuminated Hebrew manuscripts. This is a real book that is rare, among other reasons, because, in general, Hebrew manuscripts are not illuminated with the kind of artwork that decorates Christian manuscripts of the period. It is also well-known because of how it was saved from destruction during the Second World War. I was somewhat concerned that my familiarity with the story of the book would interfere with my enjoyment of this novel, but I needn't have worried. Ms. Brooks' book is excellent.

    There are actually two parallel stories being told here. First is the present-day framing story of Hanna Heath, a book conservator who is brought in to work on the haggadah. Then, the story of the book is told in chapters between Hannah's story. Each chapter on the book is a moment in the book's history based on a discovery of Hanna's about the manuscript--a butterfly wing, a wine stain, a hair--which provides the inspiration for the historical tale. Through these inspirational artifacts, the history of the haggadah is told in reverse. It starts in 1940 and works its way back to the creation of the manuscript in 1480.

    For most of the novel, the two stories complement each other very well. Ms. Brooks is obviously very knowledgeable about the haggadah and the conservator's trade, which gives her fictionalization a lot of credibility, particularly the historical sections, where she didn't hit a sour note. Even Hannah's story, fraught with emotion and action as it was, seemed necessary to fit nicely with the dramatic story of the book. Only the last chapter, when Hannah is pulled from the Outback to save the book again, does Ms. Brooks go a little overboard.

    These last few pages were not enough to defeat my enjoyment of the novel, however. Anyone who thinks you can't write an exciting, interesting novel about a book should take a look at this one. You won't be disappointed....more info
  • Inspired tale of the creation and survival of a unique book
    This truly excellent book that tracks the fictional history of the Sarajevo Haggadah is a must read. I've lived in Sarajevo, and felt Brooks perfectly captured the flavor of the city in the brief glimpses we see in the narrative. This is the story of a magnificent and unique work of art, a book that has survived overwhelming odds and serves as an inspiration merely by its continued existence. Though the true story of the Sarajevo Haggadah is compelling enough, this narrative serves as a "what if" about the creators and protectors of the book, a story that personalizes a truly incredible journey. As Hanna unravels the story of the Haggadah, she simultaneously uncovers the lost truth about her own life and family, and discovers the self she never knew she had. I cannot recommend this book highly enough- 5 strong stars! ...more info
  • Great Beginning with promise...
    The first 100 pages or so of this book were so compelling. I loved the structure, the idea, the mix of current investigation with past historical episodes. Intriguing novel, at first. Toward the middle and end of the book, the writer, however, started to pepper her prose with more and more sexual passages that lowered the literary status of the novel to nothing more than pure Dan Brownish pop fiction. A very disappointing turn of events for me because this book has many good literary qualities, but alas, it has lost its permanent place in my home library. If someone were to write a book about the history of my copy, they'd end up at the city dump....more info
  • not my "Book"
    Only got about 3/4 of the way through. I would have quit earlier, but was determined since I had paid hardback price for it. Won't be picking up any of her other books, Pulitzer or not. This novel is too contrived, and dry and soap operatic at same time, if that is possible. ...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
  • 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
  • An intellectual adventure
    In "People of the Book", we follow Hanna Heath, a rare book expert, as she uncovers the mysteries surrounding a beautifully illuminated Hebrew manuscript, the famed Sarajevo Haggadah. As Hanna examines the Haggadah, she uncovers various artifacts from the past that lead her to investigate how the book survived the Inquisitions, the Nazis and several other acts of violence. The rarity of this Haggadah stems not only from its' age but also from the illuminations it contains. Why are they there? Who created them? Another mystery since these types of illuminations are not usually associated with Hebrew texts.

    The Sarajevo Haggadah is quite real; however, the story told in this novel is one of fiction. Ms. Brooks has created a wonderful account of the Haggadah's survival for the last 500 years. In it we see not only the events that took place but also the people who were either involved in the creation of the Haggadah or in its' protection, regardless of their religious beliefs. As each artifact is researched in the 'present', Ms. Brooks presents us with a flashback account of how that artifact came to be in the book. These flashbacks are accomplished via alternating the chapters between the 'present' and the past. They start with the more recent past and move backwards in time. I thought that this was nicely done.

    I thought that the novel was well researched/written and I enjoyed reading about the history surrounding the Haggadah. Was their an underlying message? Possibly. One in which Jews, Christians and Muslims can coexist in peace as they once did. I recommend this book to those who enjoy historical fiction, mysteries or Geraldine Brooks....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
  • 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
  • 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
  • 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
  • Big disappointment
    I was ready to love this book, but instead I barely made it to the end.

    The author's style is more journalistic than novelistic, and perhaps that's the nicest way I can put the fact that she bashes you over the head with her opinions. Brooks also repeatedly breaks the novelist's rule of "show, don't say" by endlessly telling us what we should be thinking.

    Somebody already pointed out the repetition in background points like "my graduate days at Harvard." That irked me too, and there were lots of other instances, like the repeated carps about how Americans can't make tea. Saying it once is funny, but once is sufficient for any half-awake reader. By the second or third time you're wondering if the author or editor forgot to check for stray stuff moved around from previous drafts.

    With the characters as well, this author just doesn't know when to stop. Bad characters' despicable traits are restated over and over again, I guess in case we missed it the first few times. At worst, some characters are nothing more than the worst sort of religious stereotype -- I'm not Catholic or Muslim, but by the end of the book I was offended enough for both groups by these grotesque portrayals.

    Moreover, these "bad" characters can't just have a single shortcoming, which satisfied the old Greek playrights. Instead, multiple contemptible flaws are heaped into the "bad" characters -- syphilitic, slovenly, intellectually weak, morally weak, alcoholic, smelly, slutty, baby-hating (I'm not making any of this up), child-abuse and avarice are all balled up together and stuffed onto the slight frames of individual "bad" characters. Four characters, in the case of the adjectives I've just used. For some characters, apparently, nuance was neither desired nor attempted.

    The portrayal of the inquisitor actually made me laugh out loud. All we see is: a black shroud, with no face at all because it's hidden in the shadows, and virtually zero dialogue. Here the author had an opportunity to delve into the mind of a bona fide bad guy, and a chance to explore what twist of mind or belief makes a person persecute others. But instead we get Voldemort, without Rowling's ability to draw a compelling evil character....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
  • 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
  • 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
  • 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
  • Intriguing Idea, Stuffy Tone
    Personal narrative and the way it affects and changes an object is a major theme of Geraldine Brooks' People of the Book. Brooks was inspired to write the novel based on actual events surrounding the discovery and recovery of the Sarajevo Haggadah. In Brooks' fictionalized account, a manuscript conservator named Hanna Heath is commissioned to examine the ancient text before its placement in a museum's collection. In analyzing the haggadah, she finds a number of odd an out-of-place items: a white hair, an unidentified stain, a gossamer wing, and more. Even as Hannah is all research and science in discovering the hidden history of this book, personal narratives arise that give life and breadth to the text itself.

    I really enjoyed learning more about the people whose hands this haggadah had passed through. But when the novel would refocus on the present, and on Hanna, I just kept losing interest. I did not particularly like her as a character, and I didn't always believe in the authenticity of her actions or motives. I found myself eager for her to discover a new twist or turn in the pages of the haggadah, just so we could at least radiate out into a new adventure.

    I also found myself frequently annoyed by the professorial tone Brooks sometimes employed. I had to resist the urge to keep Google at my fingertips - there was just SO much world history referenced throughout the book, along with many (MANY) foreign words and phrases. I know I risk sounding like a willing idiot by saying this, but I would have appreciated more of a "layman's" approach to this story.

    Even so, I really did enjoy People of the Book. I thought the premise behind it was fascinating, and - as I said - I became easily engrossed in the different intimate stories coursing through the haggadah's pages. I read this as part of a book club, and we all felt there were good, weighty themes to discuss and many personal opinions to be shared about this unique novel....more info
  • I love a book that teaches you something
    I really enjoyed reading this book. I'd read Year of Wonders before and thought it a great tale. This also wrapped a story through history and the tell-tale scraps we leave behind. Learned a LOT about book preservation and all those good things. I read this while up in the mountains in Georgia, and will leave it up here for my sister in law to pick up if she's interested whenshe comes to visit. And then, it may travel some more....just like the book in the story, but under less trying circumstances.
    ...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
  • Excellent
    I read this for my book club, so I didn't pick it out myself. It's a novel, although it's sometimes hard to keep that in mind. I often find a novel which skips from time to time and place to place hard to follow, but not this one. I really enjoyed it and so did the others in my group....more info
  • Maybe You Should Wait for the Video
    People of the Book tells the story of Dr. Hanna Heath, a book conservator, who is called to Bosnia to conserve the Haggadah of Sarajevo, an ancient Jewish prayer book used for the Passover holiday. This particular Haggadah, apparently created in Spain in the 15th century, is the earliest example of a Jewish prayer book with pictures.

    In the course of analyzing and restoring the Sarajevo Haggadah, Hanna discovers certain artifacts which serve as clues to the Hagaddah's unknown history, including the wing of an insect, a white hair, and a wine/blood stain. The novel is then interspersed with stories (revealed to the reader, but not to Hanna, who also serves as narrator) giving the "real story" behind the artifacts, and in turn, revealing the real story behind the creation and preservation of the book, and its movements from ancient Spain to Bosnia.

    I found these vignettes giving the "back story" of the Haggadah to be the heart of the novel, and sadly, all too short. Each was wonderfully written, with beautiful descriptions, wonderful plots, vivid imagery and strong characters. They are presented to the reader in reverse chronological order, allowing the history of the Haggadah to be slowly and tantalizingly revealed to the reader.

    Frankly, had the novel simply been this "back story" without any modern day involvement by Hanna Heath (or a much more circumscribed involvement), I would have given People of the Book a strong FIVE STARS!! In comparison to the wonderful chapters that told the history of the Haggadah, I found Hannah's present day story to be thin, uninteresting and superficial--like placing a layer of pulp fiction over a base of fine literature. The relationship between Hannah and her mother was screechy, like nails on a blackboard. Hanna's love relationship was little more than a caricature. The revelations in Hanna's own life (regarding her lineage, etc) and the last chapter's histrionics (no further explanation, so as to not ruin the "surprise"), seemed overly calculated, and a desperate shot at a movie deal. In fact, I couldn't help feeling that Hanna Heath's whole story was tacked on to the tale of the Haggadah as an afterthought at the insistence of some editor trying to fashion the next DaVinci Code.

    Even with this serious (serious) failing, I found the story of the Haggadah's history to sufficiently compelling that I would still recommend this book (or see the movie when it comes out....but on video).
    ...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
  • 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 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
  • 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
  • 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
  • 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
  • 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