Thursday, 18 December 2014

The People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks

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 binding-an insect wing fragment, wine stains, salt crystals, a white hair-only begin to unlock its deep mysteries and unexpectedly plunge Hanna into the intrigues of fine art forgers and ultra-nationalist fanatics.

About the Author
Australian-born Geraldine Brooks is an author and journalist who grew up in the Western suburbs of Sydney, and attended Bethlehem College Ashfield and the University of Sydney. She worked as a reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald for three years as a feature writer with a special interest in environmental issues.
She was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in fiction in 2006 for her novel March. Her most recent novel, Caleb’s Crossing, was a New York Times best seller. Other novels, Year of Wonders and People of the Book,  are international bestsellers, translated into more than 25 languages. She is also the author of the nonfiction works Nine Parts of Desire and Foreign Correspondence.
Reviews:  The NY Times     The Washington Post     The Guardian


  1. People of the Book elicited varying responses from our members. Many loved the book or loved parts of the book, were fascinated by the historical and restoration details or were bored by them. All agreed on one thing – they disliked the ending. We had this experience once before. Speaking with an author that we liked about her second book, we asked how various decisions were made regarding character and plot. We enjoyed the book… except for the ending. She confessed that she thought the book should end where we thought it should end, but was pressured by the editors to write the other ending. To our minds that decision took the book from being a strong, well- researched and written historical novel into happily-ever-after popular fiction. We wondered if this had happened to Geraldine Brooks.
    Brooks, a former journalist, is a meticulous researcher. By choosing to write about the history of the Sarajevo haggadah from 1492 to the present, she set herself an arduous task. All the detail about the different periods in history, the process of creating the haggadah and the tools and techniques used to restore such an ancient book read as authentic. Brooks dealt with all that information and wove a believable story around the journeys of the book; however, the reader could easily become lost in that complex fabric and in moving from present to past and back.

  2. The people of different faiths - Christian, Jewish, and Muslim – who sought to harm or save this ancient Jewish Book of Prayer, were they the people of the book? Are Jews the people of the book? Does the author lay present day values upon the past? What meanings should we take away?
    To us that is the strength of the author - her ability to take complex stories from history, weave them together and bring them to life in novel form. Her synthesis of the various threads of the story requires a particular talent. Choosing the art restorer to connect the elements did not seem/feel artificial. She writes very well, with detail carefully selected – we were able to see what she described. The work was cinematic.