Synopses & Reviews
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 Spain. 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 bindingaan insect wing fragment, wine stains, salt crystals, a white hairaonly begin to unlock its deep mysteries and unexpectedly plunges Hanna into the intrigues of fine art forgers and ultra-nationalist fanatics.
"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....[A]n ambitious book, a pleasure to read, and wholly successful." Minneapolis Star Tribune
"[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
"Less flash and more substance than The Da Vinci Code
. . . The stories of the Sarajevo Haggadah, both factual and fictional, are stirring testaments to the people of many faiths who risked all to save this priceless work."
- USA Today
"As full of heart and curiosity as it is intelligence and judgment."
-The Boston Globe
"Intelligent, thoughtful, gracefully written and original."
-Jonathan Yardley, The Washington Post
"Erudite but suspenseful . . . one of the most popular and successful works of fiction in the New Year."
-Alan Cheuse, NPR / "All Things Considered"
In 1996, Hanna Heath, an Australian rare-book expert, is offered the job of a lifetime: analysis and conservation of the famous Sarajevo Haggadah, which was rescued during the Bosnian war. Priceless and beautiful, the book is one of the earliest Jewish volumes ever to be illuminated with images. When Hanna discovers a series of tiny artifacts in the book's ancient binding, she begins to unlock its mysteries, tracing the book's journey from its salvation back to its creation. In Bosnia during WW II, a Muslim risks his life to protect the book from the Nazis. In the hedonistic salons of Vienna, the book becomes a pawn in a struggle against the city's rising anti-Semitism. In Inquisition-era Venice, a Catholic priest saves it. Hanna's investigation unexpectedly plunges her into the intrigues of art forgers and ultra-nationalist fanatics.
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.