Synopses & Reviews
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 Whittakera 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 directioninto the realm of the spiritual, the divine, and the magical. Alma is a clear-minded scientist; Ambrose a utopian artistbut 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 globefrom 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, whoborn in the Age of Enlightenment, but living well into the Industrial Revolutionbears 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.
"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
"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
"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"
Praise for The Signature of All Things
“Gilbert has established herself as a straight-up storyteller who dares us into adventures of worldly discovery, and this novel stands as a winning next act. The Signature of All Things is a bracing homage to the many natures of genius and the inevitable progress of ideas, in a world that reveals its best truths to the uncommonly patient minds.”—Barbara Kingsolver, The New York Times Book Review
“[A] rip-roaring tale… Its prose has the elegant sheen of a 19th-century epic, but its concerns — the intersection of science and faith, the feminine struggle for fulfillment, the dubious rise of the pharmaceutical industry — are essentially modern.”—Steve Almond, The New York Times Magazine
“The most ambitious and purely imaginative work in Gilberts 20-year career: a deeply researched and vividly rendered historical novel about a 19th century female botanist.”—Alexandra Alter, The Wall Street Journal
“A radiant novel…that rare literary achievement, a big, panoramic novel about life and love…Like Victor Hugo or Emile Zola, Gilbert captures something important about the wider world in The Signature of All Things: a pivotal moment in history when progress defined us in concrete ways.”—Marie Arana, The Washington Post
“A delightful book…one of the best of the year…Gilbert marries the technical, cultural and spiritual with a warm, frankly funny wit… This kind of storytelling is rare - one in which an author can depict the particulars of a moss colony as skillfully as she maps the landscape of the human heart.”—Lizzie Skurnick, “All Things Considered,” NPR
“Gilberts sumptuous third novel, her first in thirteen years, draws openly on nineteenth-century forebears: Dickens, Eliot, and Henry James…Gilberts prose is by turns flinty, funny, and incandescent.”—The New Yorker
“Engrossing…The Signature of All Things is one of those rewardingly fact-packed books that make readers feel bold and smart by osmosis. Alma commits her life to ceaseless study, but reading this vibrant, hot-blooded book about her takes no work at all.” —Janet Maslin, The New York Times
“Gilbert has mulled, from the confines of her desk, the correlations of nature, the principle that connects a grain of sand to a galaxy, to create a character who does the same - who makes the study of existence her lifes purpose. And in doing so, she has written the novel of a lifetime.”—O, The Oprah Magazine
“A fabulous read…Gilbert has returned to fiction with a boisterous historical novel about a 19th-century botanist named Alma Whittaker…Almas fabulous brain is a hot pot of scientific knowledge, lonely feminist turmoil and erotic longing. All of which makes her an irresistible character to accompany through history and around the world.”—Helen Rogan, People
“Raucously ingenious…Signature is not just a historical novel that spans two centuries and many geographies…I found unshackled joy on every page…a novel of brave and lovely ideas.”—Beth Kephart, The Chicago Tribune
Praise for The Signature of All Things
“Gilberts sweeping saga of Henry Whittaker and his daughter Alma offers an allegory for the great, rampant heart of the 19th century…Characters leap into life, visible and vibrant… A brilliant exercise of intellect and imagination.”—Kirkus Reviews
“Gilbert has returned to fiction, and clearly shes reveling in all its pleasures and possibilities…[an] unhurried, sympathetic, intelligent novel by an author confident in her material and her form.”—Publishers Weekly
“Rich, highly satisfying…Gilbert, in supreme command of her material, effortlessly invokes the questing spirit of the nineteenth century…Beautifully written and imbued with a reverence for science and learning, this is a must-read.”—ALA Booklist
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.
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.
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.
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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.