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Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Book Review: People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks


My old boss recommended this book to me a couple of years ago, and I was pretty sure I'd like it and can't explain why it took me so long to get around to it. But I loved it! Such a layered, detailed, well-crafted story of - of all things - a book!

Hanna Heath is an Australian book restorer who has been called to Bosnia to work on the Sarajevo Haggadah, a 15th century book which is also a piece of art, which had been saved from the war by a Muslim - for the second time. In Hanna's restoration she notices tiny details such as a wine stain, a single white hair, some grains of salt, that reveal the history of the Haggadah. Hanna's story is intercut with flashbacks to seminal moments in the life of the book, such as when it was saved in WWII, when it was saved from the Inquisition, and when it was first created. Each of these stories is exciting, with unique characters and places (Vienna, Venice, Seville) showing how close this beautiful little book had come to destruction so many times. Meanwhile, Hanna is learning things about herself, her past, and her family that are unexpected.

Because the contemporary restorers and historians can only guess at what each of the clues implies about the history of the book, it is interesting to see those guesses compared to the reality of the flashbacks. In that way it reminded me of Possession by Byatt or Arcadia by Stoppard. It is literary, historical, multi-layered and multi-faceted. With so many stories and details going on, it is truly fascinating and hard to put down. In a way, the different glimpses into the book's past work as short stories, which normally are something I don't like, but interlocked short stories with a recurring framework is the way for short stories to work for me. Any lover of books and art and history will dive into this rich, decadent novel.

I got this book from the publisher, who understood I would be reading it for myself, and not in exchange for any review, positive or negative.

7 comments:

Melissa Mc (Gerbera Daisy Diaries) said...

One of my favorite books! And authors, for that matter. I have an ARC of her new book, Caleb's Crossing -- need to start it soon!

Caroline Starr Rose said...

I've just skimmed because I don't want to know too much (I'm currently reading this for a book club).

I love your connection to Possession (my favorite book, tied with The Count of Monte Cristo). I'm feeling similarities to The Shadow of the Wind (the reverence for books) and a book by Noah Gordon that for the life of me I can't remember.

Becky (Page Turners) said...

I am glad to hear that you loved it. I have the admit that whilst I enjoyed it, love wouldn't be a word I used. I didn't really connect with any of the characters and that really reduced my enjoyment of it

Bailey said...

I really need to find a book by this author! It seems like I keep seeing good things, and this one in particular sounds like a multi-faceted storyline that I would enjoy. Thanks for the review!

Kate said...

I love this book! Glad you enjoyed it. Have you read anything else by Brooks?

Carin S. said...

@Kate, I haven't, this was my first! But I now have 3 others of hers including the new one, so I am ready to get my Brooks on!

SmallWorld at Home said...

Loved this book! I just reviewed March by Brooks on my blog today!