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People of the Book: A Novelby Geraldine Brooks
Give me a mystery (one that is structured around an antiquarian book, no less!), a historical setting, and an exquisite writer like Geraldine Brooks, and I am suddenly avoiding daily rituals like sleep and food. Nothing could deter me from turning the pages of this fabulous, beautifully written book.
This is an extraordinary history of a Jewish prayer book. As an archivist is repairing the book, she finds unexpected things in the binding: a granule of salt, a wine stain, a fragment of a butterfly wing. As she discovers these items, the reader sees the story of their introduction into the book. Unlike anything I've ever read, the images in this book are sharp and sometimes unbearable. Despite the horror, this is an amazing, beautiful, fabulous book. When my store asked its employees for their three best books of the decade, it was one of my picks. I cannot recommend it highly enough.
Synopses & Reviews
From the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of March, the journey of a rare illuminated manuscript through centuries of exile and war
In 1996, Hanna Heath, an Australian rare-book expert, is offered the job of a lifetime: analysis and conservation of the famed Sarajevo Haggadah, which has been rescued from Serb shelling during the Bosnian war. Priceless and beautiful, the book is one of the earliest Jewish volumes ever to be illuminated with images. When Hanna, a caustic loner with a passion for her work, discovers a series of tiny artifacts in its ancient binding — an insect wing fragment, wine stains, salt crystals, a white hair — she begins to unlock the book’s mysteries. The reader is ushered into an exquisitely detailed and atmospheric past, tracing the book’s journey from its salvation back to its creation.
In Bosnia during World War II, a Muslim risks his life to protect it from the Nazis. In the hedonistic salons of fin-de-siècle Vienna, the book becomes a pawn in the struggle against the city’s rising anti-Semitism. In inquisition-era Venice, a Catholic priest saves it from burning. In Barcelona in 1492, the scribe who wrote the text sees his family destroyed by the agonies of enforced exile. And in Seville in 1480, the reason for the Haggadah’s extraordinary illuminations is finally disclosed. Hanna’s investigation unexpectedly plunges her into the intrigues of fine art forgers and ultra-nationalist fanatics. Her experiences will test her belief in herself and the man she has come to love.
Inspired by a true story, People of the Book is at once a novel of sweeping historical grandeur and intimate emotional intensity, an ambitious, electrifying work by an acclaimed and beloved author.
"Signature Reviewed by Margot Livesey Reading Geraldine Brooks's remarkable debut novel, Year of Wonders, or more recently March, which won the Pulitzer Prize, it would be easy to forget that she grew up in Australia and worked as a journalist. Now in her dazzling new novel, People of the Book, Brooks allows both her native land and current events to play a larger role while still continuing to mine the historical material that speaks so ardently to her imagination. Late one night in the city of Sydney, Hanna Heath, a rare book conservator, gets a phone call. The Sarajevo Haggadah, which disappeared during the siege in 1992, has been found, and Hanna has been invited by the U.N. to report on its condition.Missing documents and art works (as Dan Brown and Lev Grossman, among others, have demonstrated) are endlessly appealing, and from this inviting premise Brooks spins her story in two directions. In the present, we follow the resolutely independent Hanna through her thrilling first encounter with the beautifully illustrated codex and her discovery of the tiny signs — a white hair, an insect wing, missing clasps, a drop of salt, a wine stain — that will help her to discover its provenance. Along with the book she also meets its savior, a Muslim librarian named Karaman. Their romance offers both predictable pleasures and genuine surprises, as does the other main relationship in Hanna's life: her fraught connection with her mother.In the other strand of the narrative we learn, moving backward through time, how the codex came to be lost and found, and made. From the opening section, set in Sarajevo in 1940, to the final section, set in Seville in 1480, these narratives show Brooks writing at her very best. With equal authority she depicts the struggles of a young girl to escape the Nazis, a duel of wits between an inquisitor and a rabbi living in the Venice ghetto, and a girl's passionate relationship with her mistress in a harem. Like the illustrations in the Haggadah, each of these sections transports the reader to a fully realized, vividly peopled world. And each gives a glimpse of both the long history of anti-Semitism and of the struggle of women toward the independence that Hanna, despite her mother's lectures, tends to take for granted.Brooks is too good a novelist to belabor her political messages, but her depiction of the Haggadah bringing together Jews, Christians and Muslims could not be more timely. Her gift for storytelling, happily, is timeless. Margot Livesey's The House on Fortune Street will be published by HarperCollins in May 2008." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"[A]n ingenuity equal to that standing behind her Pultizer Prize-winning March....[A] marvelously evocative journey backward in time..." Booklist (Starred Review)
"[A]n enthralling historical mystery....Rich suspense based on a true-life literary puzzle, from the Pulitzer Prize-winning Brooks." Kirkus Reviews
"Each story is engrossing and deftly woven into the narrative, though the telling is sometimes facile or cloying. Nevertheless, this latest from Pulitzer Prize winner Brooks is a good addition to most libraries and excellent for discussion groups." Library Journal
"Brooks demonstrates a gift for balancing research with a command of pacing and plot....Geraldine Brooks has...half-found and half-invented a swashbuckling book and, despite occasional quirks, woven a tale that's haunting and satisfying." The Los Angeles Times
"[A] sprawling historical work — equal parts CSI, period piece and romance-among-the-ruins....This is exciting stuff...and Brooks does a good job moving the plot along....
"[I]ntense, gripping...a tour de force that delivers a reverberating lesson gleaned from history....In writing an immensely readable novel that fleshes out gaps in the historical record, Brooks has extended the reach of a story that bears recounting." San Francisco Chronicle
"Its accelerated suspense and twisty, sensational conclusion, though sure to please many readers, have a feature-film quality that undercuts somewhat the seriousness of the Haggadah story. It's a good try, but Brooks can't quite have it both ways." San Diego Union-Tribune
"Although People of the Book contains scads of beautiful writing, the overall work is uneven....Still, [it] is an ambitious effort filled with many fascinating historical details, characters and stories, and it's capable of casting a spell for many pages at a time." Rocky Mountain News
From the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of March comes this novel — inspired by a true story — that traces the journey of a rare illuminated manuscript through centuries of exile and war.
A glorious, sweeping novel of desire, ambition, and the thirst for knowledge, from the # 1 New York Times bestselling author of Eat, Pray, Love and Committed
In The Signature of All Things, Elizabeth Gilbert returns to fiction, inserting her inimitable voice into an enthralling story of love, adventure and discovery. Spanning much of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the novel follows the fortunes of the extraordinary Whittaker family as led by the enterprising Henry Whittaker—a poor-born Englishman who makes a great fortune in the South American quinine trade, eventually becoming the richest man in Philadelphia. Born in 1800, Henrys brilliant daughter, Alma (who inherits both her fathers money and his mind), ultimately becomes a botanist of considerable gifts herself. As Almas research takes her deeper into the mysteries of evolution, she falls in love with a man named Ambrose Pike who makes incomparable paintings of orchids and who draws her in the exact opposite direction—into the realm of the spiritual, the divine, and the magical. Alma is a clear-minded scientist; Ambrose a utopian artist—but what unites this unlikely couple is a desperate need to understand the workings of this world and the mechanisms behind all life.
Exquisitely researched and told at a galloping pace, The Signature of All Things soars across the globe—from London to Peru to Philadelphia to Tahiti to Amsterdam, and beyond. Along the way, the story is peopled with unforgettable characters: missionaries, abolitionists, adventurers, astronomers, sea captains, geniuses, and the quite mad. But most memorable of all, it is the story of Alma Whittaker, who—born in the Age of Enlightenment, but living well into the Industrial Revolution—bears witness to that extraordinary moment in human history when all the old assumptions about science, religion, commerce, and class were exploding into dangerous new ideas. Written in the bold, questing spirit of that singular time, Gilberts wise, deep, and spellbinding tale is certain to capture the hearts and minds of readers.
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From the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of March, the journey of a rare illuminated prayer book through centuries of war, destruction, theft, loss, and love.
About the Author
Geraldine Brooks is the author of March, the recipient of the 2006 Pulitzer Prize in Fiction. She is also the author of Year of Wonders, Nine Parts of Desire, and Foreign Correspondence. Previously, Brooks was a correspondent for the Wall Street Journal in Bosnia, Somalia, and the Middle East. She lives with her husband, the author Tony Horwitz, and their son.
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