Sunday, January 02, 2011

People of the Book

by Geraldine Brooks

This book was a surprise to me. I read great reviews of it when it first came out in 2008 added it to my wish list and forgot about. Years later I needed to put something on my ipod for a trip, came across it, remembered it was supposed to be good and got it without really knowing what it was about except vaguely a book. While it was far more serious then I expected, I really enjoyed it. The framework is that our narrator is a young rare book restorer who is tasked with restoring the Sarajevo Haggadah and when she comes across a clue in the book to its history such as a wine stain, salt or an insect wing, we get to hear the story of how that wine stain etc. got there and gradually the entire history of the Haggadah unfolds.

And quite a history it is, from its creation in Spain and travels to Venice, Vienna and Sarajevo barely escaping the inquisition, the Nazi's and the Bosnian War. The author has an interesting map on her web site of its travels. While not a "thriller" I thought the story was just fascinating, especially since it is in most part true. And I am always fascinated by illuminated manuscripts.

I was not familiar with the Sarajevo Haggadah or its history but I don't think that took away from my enjoyment of the work. Obviously this is a work of fiction and I understand that experts knowledgeable of the actual book and its history may take issue with some literary license taken but as a literary work I thought it was great. Each of the story lines was fascinating as well as the many characters and I also learned a lot of interesting history that I was unfamiliar with. I highly recommend it.

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