People of the Book
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Product Description

The ¡°complex and moving¡±(The New Yorker) novel by Pulitzer Prize¨Cwinner 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¡ªan insect wing fragment, wine stains, salt crystals, a white hair¡ªonly begin to unlock its deep mysteries and unexpectedly plunges Hanna into the intrigues of fine art forgers and ultra-nationalist fanatics.

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

Customer Reviews:

  • a most worthwile book to read
    a fine book in all areas. would apeal to both men and women. a most compelling story....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
  • Religion, History and Culture in a beautiful package
    A wonderful surprise found at my library. I thought it might be just another "chick" book,and was looking for a good yarn to listen to on a long trip. I was pleasantly astounded at the pace and depth of the story. It seems as though I learned something new in each chapter about the origin of paint colors, judiaism and islam, historical bits of the Spanish Inquisition and the Bosnian War. The story is centered around the Sarajevo Haggadah with a full explanation of what it is) and its travels over 500 years through war, relisious and political persecution, and the people that use and protect it. This audio version is a masterpiece in the shading and tone of a wide range of characters that the reader, Edwina Wren, gives to each one. Other reviews will give you a sense of the plot and sub-plots. Taken in its entirety, it a book that you will be recommending to your favorite reading friends. ...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
  • A wonderful story
    Book and manuscript conservator, Dr.Hanna Heath is brought to Sarajevo, after the Bosnian war, to examine what the authorities hope will be a huge find..a Haggadar or ancient Hebrew manuscript, written in the early 15th century. Hanna discovers some unusual tiny clues while examing the book such as a fine white hair, an insects wing, a supposed wine stain and salt crystals, all in a minute quantity and virtually invisible except to the trained eye. The most unusual feature about the manuscript is that it contains the most beautiful illustrations done in gold, silver and lapis lazuli and that, never before, has a Hebrew book contained illustrations, which are forbidden in that religion. The story is mainly that of the history of the book from its conception and through religious pogroms where this wonderful book is protected by people of all religions who value it for its beauty and in spite of fanatics who would destroy it. It's a wonderful journey through the centuries with wars, loves and conflicts of all kinds including sheer avarice and is a superb read for lovers of art and history....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
  • 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
  • Uninspired
    This book sounded great to me. I like all the elements in promised--mystery, clash of cultures, sweep of time etc. yet the book does not work at all. The characters are flat and the situations predictable and predictably resolved. There was nothing special in this book....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
  • 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
  • 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.


  • 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
  • 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
  • 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
  • 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 brillant and memorable book
    I'm not one to rave much about books on ancient history, but Geraldine Brooks' "People of the Book" is a vastly impressive work like the threads in a finely woven tapestry. One not only learns much about early Jewish history, as recorded over the centuries in a haggadah, a type of living religious text, but Brooks' deftness transitions from the present day book restorer and her life to that of the ancients who wrote the text. The ending is, in itself, stunning, not only for its realism but for the way Brooks brings all the threads together in one final, mighty stitch.

    Not as fast paced as that other historical fiction (The DaVinci Code), but this is not a thriller. It's a thinker and a wonderful one at that....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).
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  • 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
  • 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
  • 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
  • 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
  • The Red Violin with a dash of The Da Vinci Code thrown in
    This book is unlike anything I've ever read. It is part mystery, part historical fiction, part intellectual thriller. It traces the origins of a sacred text, using the main character--who is refreshingly a woman and an expert on sacred texts--as the sleuth. She is slightly flawed but entirely likable.

    As an author myself, I always study the writing, and Geraldine Brooks is a gem. Her abilities as a storyteller compliment her skills as a writer. She flows in and out of different characters as fluidly as she captures different historical perspectives.

    I would recommend this book to anyone who likes a good story with some substance to it, and anyone who might appreciate the historical significance of a sacred object and its journey. The story reminds me a little of The Red Violin with a dash of The DaVinci Code thrown in.
    ...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.
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  • 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
  • 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