People of the Book

by Geraldine Brooks

Book, 2008

Barcode

123456945

Call number

FIC BRO

Collection

Publication

New York, N.Y. : Viking, 2008.

Description

In 1996, Hanna Heath, a young Australian book conservator is called to analyze the famed Sarajevo Haggadah, a priceless six-hundred-year-old Jewish prayer book that has been salvaged from a destroyed Bosnian library. When Hanna discovers a series of artifacts in the centuries' old, she unwittingly exposes an international cover up.

Media reviews

While peering through a microscope at a rime of salt crystals on the manuscript of the Haggadah, Hanna reflects that “the gold beaters, the stone grinders, the scribes, the binders” are “the people I feel most comfortable with. Sometimes in the quiet these people speak to me.” Though the
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reader’s sense of Hanna’s relationship with the Haggadah rarely deepens to such a level, Geraldine Brooks’s certainly has.
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3 more
Brooks' novel meticulously, lovingly amalgamates mystery and history with the personal story of its heroine, rare-book expert and conservator Hanna Heath.
If Brooks becomes the new patron saint of booksellers, she deserves it. 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.

User reviews

LibraryThing member lauralkeet
Dr. Hanna Heath is an Australian book conservator, sought after for her unique ability to preserve antique books. When this book opens in 1996, Hanna has been called in to work on the Sarajevo Haggadah, a 500-year-old Jewish text, and one of the oldest of its kind. The Haggadah originated in Spain,
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and traveled through Italy and Germany before arriving in Bosnia. Tucked into the ancient pages are evidence of its long journey: tiny fragments of butterfly wing, a strand of hair, etc. Intrigued, Hanna decides to analyze these fragments and bring the Haggadah's history to life.

Hanna's modern-day analysis is interspersed with chapters working backwards to the Haggadah's origins. While Hanna can only make inferences based on chemical analysis, author Geraldine Brooks imagines characters and situations that explain the butterfly wing, the hair fiber, and creation of the Haggadah itself. She takes us to Nazi Germany, 16th-century Venice, and 15th-century Spain, painting a vivid portrait of Jewish persecution. Each act of oppression and violence takes the Haggadah to a new country and ultimately to its final home. While this is based in fact, it is largely fiction (Brooks' Afterword clearly explains all of this).

Meanwhile in the present time, Hanna has a contentious and complicated relationship with her mother, and develops feelings for a Bosnian man involved in the Haggadah conservation. The romance was insufficiently developed, and didn't seem credible, and the denouement was a bit rushed. Still, I enjoyed reading the interconnected history of something I knew very little about.
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LibraryThing member snat
Brooks' novel is a fictionalized account of the real Sarajevo Haggadah, a Jewish religious text noteworthy for its inclusion of an illuminated manuscript and for its survival through turmoil and the hostility towards Jews that has erupted time and again over the centuries in Europe and Eastern
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Europe. The novel is told from the perspective of Hanna Heath, an expert in book restoration, who is called in to restore the text for display. While working on the book, Hanna finds a few curiosities that she keeps and carefully labels: a butterfly wing, a small sample of some wine stained pages, salt crystals, a white hair, and notation of some missing decorative clasps. As Hanna investigates each of these items and their origins to gain insight into the Haggadah's past, the reader is presented the story of each noteworthy item in its own stand alone chapter (stories that Hanna herself can never learn as the evidence she finds only provides her with a basis for conjecture and hypothesis). Each story is unique and not necessarily connected to the others. While the novel has been compared to The Da Vinci Code, it's a far cry from Robert Langdon's action-adventure chase through Europe in pursuit of an explosive secret that might change religion as we know it. Instead, the pacing is slower, the pacing of a scholar motivated by the desire to simply know, even if definitive answers aren't available. And, though the novel explores the nature of Jewish/Muslim/Christian relationships throughout the ages, it doesn't seek to lecture about morality or about what one should (or should not) believe.

Despite how much I enjoyed it, I will admit that People of the Book had some flaws. The story of Hanna Heath and her strained relationship with her ultra-feminist, professional mother is cliched and not given enough room to become a realistic exploration of a such a complicated relationship. In addition, a few plot points are contrived, but I can forgive that simply because the book appealed to the book lover in me. Which is a nice segue way into . . . WHY I HATE THE KINDLE (and all other eReader devices).

First off, don't lecture me about how this is the future and I need to embrace it. If you own a Kindle, fine. Enjoy. I'm not suggesting that the privilege be taken away from you. However, I'll not be tempted by the siren song of fashionable technology. I love books. I love the way they feel. I like physically seeing the progress I've made as I turn page after page. I love the cover art. I love how books look on a shelf (in home decorating magazines, I delight in trying to identify the books on the shelves of well-appointed dens and studies). I like to select which books are going on vacation with me, agonizing over which ones might suit my mood. And, when I see someone reading a book, I will often become a creepy Peeping Tom of sorts as I try to catch a glimpse of the book cover so I can see what they're reading. I judge you by what book you're reading--if you're reading Neil Gaiman, I want to know you; conversely, if you're reading Twilight, I may be silently hoping that you get to join the undead (but in a more permanent dead sort of way). So much of that is lost with an eReader. And, after reading People of the Book, I'm aware of how much history can be lost. Not just the tiny fragments that get wedged into the bindings and between the pages, but the history of the people who owned and cherished the book. A world where physical books become obsolete and everyone has an entire library on one portable reading device is also a frightening possibility. How easy then for the next dictator to destroy our beloved texts. Smash one eReader and hundreds, thousands of books efficiently and permanently lost--far more efficient than book burnings. It's the impermanence of it all that scares me. Not only that, I think that obsession with books, recognizing and identifying with others because you notice the Christopher Moore font on the book cover or the tell-tell cover art of a Tim O'Brien paperback, helps create a reading community that we're connected to and a part of. How many chance encounters, spontaneous conversations, or just the simple nod of respect to complete strangers with whom we briefly feel connected when we realize we're reading the same author on the same bus--how many of those moments are lost when we're all carrying around the same reading device that indicates no individuality or reading preference to those around us? Will we feel as open to asking a complete stranger, "What are you reading?" Obviously, not all books are as important as the Haggadah, but I like to think that we all cherish our own quaint libraries and someday perhaps they will tell the world about who we were.
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LibraryThing member Cait86
After struggling through People of the Book for about three weeks, I finally finished it the other day. It is a book that many here on LT love, and Geraldine Brooks seems to be a very popular author right now. Unfortunately, I cannot bring myself to join Brooks' fans - so brace yourselves, because
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this is not going to be a positive review.

People of the Book has a fantastic premise: Dr. Hanna Heath is a book conservator who specializes in Hebrew manuscripts. Her work takes her to Sarajevo, Bosnia, where a rare Jewish prayer book, the Sarajevo Haggadah, has recently come to light. Hanna inspects the book, looking for clues to its long history. In the pages of the Haggadah she finds part of an insect wing, salt residue, a wine spill, and a white hair; missing from the book are the clasps that would have adorned the cover. Each of these things add to the history of the Haggadah, and so the chapters of People of the Book tell their stories, and the stories of the people connected with the book. We read about the hiding of the Haggadah during WWII, its narrow escape during the Inquisition, and its creation in Spain. People of the Book spans over 500 years - years that are linked by this prayer book, and by the lives of Jewish people across Europe.

So far so good, right? This is a pretty intriguing idea for a novel, and I was really excited to read People of the Book. In the end, however, I thought it missed the mark. Here's why:

1. I never really cared about any of the characters. There were so many stories in this book, because it was tracing the history of the Haggadah, and so each character was only around for one section of the book. Just as I was starting to get interested in one person's story, it was over, and I had to meet an entirely new cast of people. Also, the character who held the book together, Hanna, was underdrawn. I never really had enough time with her to care about her life either, yet the climax of the book revolved around her own personal crisis. When her life fell apart, I didn't care. When her life was put back together, I didn't care. Events that were supposed to evoke shock or sadness in the reader were meaningless, because I had never come to sympathize with Hanna.

2. The ending came out of nowhere. For the last few chapters, I felt like I was reading a totally different book - the plot was different, the characters were different, even the writing style was different. Hanna was doing and saying things that were inconsistent with her character, and the reasons behind the changes were feeble. Events were blown out of proportion, and problems to which I saw perfectly logical solutions were handled in extremely illogical ways. If the first 4/5 of the book were just ok, the last 1/5 was excrutiating.

3. The writing was immature. There were passages in this book that were beautiful - in fact, the entire section about the white hair was wonderful - but mostly, I found the narrative rushed and in need of an editor. Important events were glossed over, and then mass amounts of time were spent on small details and insignificant moments. Also, very little was left for the reader to piece together. Themes were so obvious that I felt I was getting hit over the head with them. I prefer when the author's messages are subtle, when I have to think about what I am reading, and so often with this book my only reaction was "ok, I get it!"

People of the Book had so much promise, and discussed so many powerful ideas, yet in my opinion its execution was poor. Brooks could have created something amazing, instead of something mediocre. I wanted to love this book, but in the end I was just disappointed.
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LibraryThing member sjmccreary
Hannah Heath, a young Austrailian woman who specializes in the conservation of medieval manuscripts, is called to Sarajevo, Bosnia in 1996, to work on the famous Sarajevo Haggadah - an unusual illuminated Jewish prayer book that was created in medieval Spain. As she coaxes the book to give up its
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secrets, we are treated first to a glimpse of the workings of Hannah's craft, then to a very moving walk back into the history of the book and into the lives of the people who protected it, who owned it and used it, and finally to those who made it. Between these steps backwards, we follow Hannah's life forward as she deals with revelations of her own in the wake of her work on the book.

I think Brooks has done an excellent job of providing us not only an entertaining story, but a frank and informative examination of the history and lives and treatment of the Jewish people in the last 500 years. She also gives us a look into life in Bosnia over the last 60 years. This book is very readable, very compelling and engrossing. I picked it up to read only a page or two as a preview, and didn't put it down until I finished the entire first section, nearly 50 pages later. I highly recommend it to anyone.
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LibraryThing member bjappleg8
I wanted to love this book, but the more I think about it the more disappointed I am.

The “book” of the title is the Sarajevo Hagaddah, a real-live artifact – a beautifully illuminated medieval Hebrew book with a mysterious history. Brooks frames her novel by telling about Hanna, the
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(fictional) modern-day conservator who comes to Sarajevo to prepare the book for display. She interrupts that story as Hanna finds other artifacts inside the book – a butterfly’s wing, some salt crystals, some reddish stains, a fine white hair – to imagine the stories of the people who had the book in their possession when these artifacts were deposited. [James Michener] used a similar device when he wrote [The Source] –another novel dealing with Jewish artifacts and history. Frankly, I thought [The Source] was the better book of the two.

The first thing that put me off was the romance between the book conservator and the library director who has charge of the book. “Romance” is a generous adjective here – she thinks he’s cute, he invites her out to dinner, she licks his fingers in the restaurant and they hook up. Well, okay. It is the 21st century, and I admit to being a prudish old-fashioned woman when it comes to these matters. Notwithstanding my own moral views, I can imagine people having a different perspective on sex and morality than I do. What bothered me about this author and this book was that she didn’t seem able to imagine that people of another time might not think or act like 21st century liberated people!

The “book” of the title is a religious book, an artifact of an ancient people who have known persecution throughout all of their history, yet found something so meaningful and powerful in their faith that it has preserved them and bound them as a people to this day. I couldn’t imagine one could say anything meaningful about this religious artifact without addressing its religious meaning somehow, but Brooks pretty much did just that. The only part of the story and the only character drawn in any real depth was Hanna, the book conservator – and I did not find her particularly sympathetic. The other characters were, for the most part very shallow and very unlikely for the times and places they inhabited. It seemed obvious they were just stage settings for what another reviewer called Brooks’ “info dump.” And to be fair, the research must have been significant. I am glad I read People of the Book, and would recommend it -- with reservations.
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LibraryThing member elliepotten
I came to this book with great expectations, having read and loved Brooks' first novel, 'Year of Wonders' several times over the years. This one didn't quite live up to her debut for me, but I certainly wasn't disappointed. Brooks has put together a sweeping work giving the reader glimpses into the
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journey of the famous Sarajevo Haggadah, a beautifully illustrated ancient Jewish prayer book.

She alternates chapters from the point of view of Hanna, a feisty young book conservator working on the haggadah, with episodes from the book's history, flowing through time and skipping across countries to follow it from its creation to its revered status today. It is an epic story, filled with hardship and death, war and persecution, romance and courage. Perhaps one of the reasons I preferred 'Year of Wonders' was its message of pulling together in times of natural disaster in order to survive. This novel was about the survival of the book when human bonds were being torn apart, and Brooks doesn't shy away from the cruelty of war and the idea of history repeating itself in the face of mankind's own futile desire for superiority.

I don't think I would read it again in a hurry - although the book survived, it was heartbreaking the way lives were being senselessly destroyed all around it. Suicide, murder, book burning, torture, it's all here. Most of this book is fictional, but the research on the religious turmoil and the bravery of the people known to have protected the haggadah is as meticulous as we would expect from Brooks. It's well worth a read: it made me think, it made me cry, it left me pondering huge themes and questions, and it reminded me of how lucky I am compared to these individuals who had to show immense courage just to hold on to their beliefs and stay alive.
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LibraryThing member Lisa2013
This is a marvelous book. I really enjoyed this author’s Year of Wonders and I think I liked this book at least as much. This is skillful and enthralling storytelling that’s also thought provoking.

This book is one of the most skillful renderings of a book that goes back and forth in time that
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I’ve ever read. Ditto for the writing of a historical fiction account, especially one that has part of its history in the very recent past.

This is a historical fiction story about the Sarajevo Haggadah. (A Haggadah is a Jewish religious text that sets out the order of the Passover Seder. During Pesach, it is read every year on the first night, and in some traditions on the second night as well, for the Seder service.)

The story goes from present to past, back to present, to farther and farther in the past several times, each time returning to present day, and ending back again in the present.

I was afraid this storytelling technique wouldn’t appeal to me or that I’d have a difficult time remembering everything and everyone, but the author manages to tell each story flawlessly and she’s able to perfectly connect all the stories. I cared about so many of the characters in each historical period and place. I enjoyed every single sub-story, and I became emotionally involved with each one.

Right away, as soon as I opened the book, I was happy because there’s a map. A map is on the inside front and back covers. Oh, how I love maps in books! This one is wonderful because it follows the route the Hagggadah in the story took: from Seville in 1480 to Sarajevo in the twentieth century. There are a few drawings on the map of how things would have looked in these places/times too.

I particularly enjoyed the story of present day Hanna’s relationship with her mother, but I hate to single out that one because there were so many wonderful characters and relationships. I was extremely touched by one of the main characters from the 1480 portion of the story.

On page 320 of the book this quote: “The point – that diverse cultures influence and enrich one another…” sums up a lot of what happens during the course of the 500 years of the story. While this influence was shown not always to be from benign relationships, I found it particularly interesting and heartwarming that positive relationships between Jews and Muslims were shown throughout these 500 years. If there are any villains at all, it is the Christian inquisitors and rulers during the late 1400s to the early 1600s, but Christian, Muslim, and Jewish characters from all periods are shown as admirable, and often as having friendly and mutually beneficial relationships with one another.

Both laudable and monstrous human characteristics are shown. There are people who risk their lives to save people and books; there is torture, slavery, and other atrocities as well.

As someone who loves books, and who appreciates old books, I found this fictional history of a book fascinating. I was also absorbed both by the inside look at the craft of book conservation work and by the detective work that can be involved as part of it.

On a personal note: I’ve been an Olympics junkie since my teens and clearly remember the Sarajevo Olympics, including the interviews at the time about how everyone in the area was getting along so well together, and then what happened there in the years following, so those parts of the story seemed very familiar to me.

Historical fiction stories often torment me because I always want to know what’s real and what is fiction. As I was finishing up reading this, I planned to research what was history and what was fictional in this tale. What I very much appreciated about this book is that the author gives the reader all this information in the afterword; she does so in a very few pages but does so comprehensively.

An added note: My book club meeting to discuss this book isn't for over a month, but I'm not concerned about it remembering enough; this is a memorable book.
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LibraryThing member mojomomma
I love a good story that involves sexy and dangerous librarians! Book conservator Hanna Heath is employed to restore the "Sarajevo Haggadah," a 500-year-old Jewish book that is unique for its beautiful illustrations. During her restoration, she discovers an insect wing, a wine stain, salt crystals,
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and a white hair in the book that with modern technology allow her to understand the history of the book through the Spanish Inquisition, the Venetian Geto, late 18th century Vienna, World War II and the Bosnian Serb war in the early 1990's. We get to read flashbacks of the book's history in which we discover how those clues got into the book, the people that treasured it and the harrowing history of the book.
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LibraryThing member Eliz12
There are few things I fear more than a trip to the dentist, but I would rather spend 10 hours in the dentist's chair than listen to this again.
I have a long commute to work, and while I generally prefer non-fiction, I'm pretty forgiving when it comes to what I listen to on the way. This is the
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only book on CD that I disliked so much I had to stop it while I was in the midst of driving.
The narrator (Edwina Wren) makes the dialogue of every non-native English speaker (and, alas, there are many) sound like Bela Lugosi. It was like having Count Dracula right there next to me on the highway and at traffic jams - but instead of telling me about some of his more interesting victims, he's reading his grocery list. "Bread, eggs, milk, grapes..." over and over and over. Because that's how incredibly boring this story is. I did not like the characters, I did not care about the Haggadah and halfway into this I finally returned it to the library.
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LibraryThing member norabelle414
- Audiobook - This book was completely underwhelming. Dr. Hanna Heath is an expert in an usually unexciting research field, has daddy issues, and sleeps with the first guy she meets who shares an interest in her field. Sounds familiar. As an Australian, she is completely perfect in every way and is
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thus chosen, out of all of the ancient manuscript experts in the world, to study the newly rediscovered Sarajevo Haggadah, a 600-year-old Jewish religious book, in Sarajevo shortly after the Bosnian War. She finds several pieces of "evidence" in the book: a few white hairs, a wine stain, some grains of salt, an insect wing. Hanna's research into each of these items develops into an historical fiction story of what could have happened to the Haggadah at that time period. These stories were entertaining on their own, but were pretty much ruined for me by the unoriginal, unrealistic, and generally obnoxious "plot" that held them together.

The idea that a forensic investigation would yield as much information as Hanna's did is laughable. I really didn't appreciate the "witty" observations stereotyping America or England (or anyone else). Each of Hanna's "conflicts" (and there were several) was more unrealistic than the last (what kind of 30-year-old scientist doesn't ever demand that her mother tell her who her father was?!?) and completely petty compared to what the Jews in the historical stories were going through. (Jews in Spain/Venice/Sarajevo were being exiled/tortured/killed but you can't manage to ask your mother who your father was?!?). Each of Hanna's issues comes to some kind of conclusion, but not a satisfactory one.

Hanna's story was told in the 1st person, and the historical stories were told in the 3rd person. It worked well and made perfect sense! Except the last of the historical stories was in 1st person. So that was weird.

Things I liked: The narrator Edwina Wren (particularly her accents); the background/insight into Sarajevo and the Bosnian War, which I did not previously know anything about; the historical stories were not bad (as I mentioned) and I liked the fact that they were presented in reverse chronological order.

In short, there is way too much going on here, and most of it doesn't work.
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LibraryThing member judithrs
People of the Book. Geraldine Brooks. 2008. I really liked this book! A rare book expert, Hanna Heath, is called to work on the famous Sarajevo Haggadah, a book used by Jewish families to read verses during Passover. It saved during the Bosnian war is a rare illuminated manuscript. When Hanna
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discovers a butterfly wing, a wine stain, salt crystals, and a white hair, she decides to use these items to see if she can trace the origin of the book. The chapters alternate between Hanna’s life and the stories of how each item came to be in the book. It reminds me of Vreeland’s Girl in the Hyacinth Blue Dress. Brooks is an excellent writer and I will probably read other novels she has written.
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LibraryThing member richardderus
This is the very first book about books I've ever read that left me hating people more than when I started it.

Hanna, what a terrible waste of a person. Sarah, her mother, my GOD what a cold, stoney bas-relief of a human being she was. Orzen, Werner, yechptui on all of 'em and the parts set in the
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past...! The Nazis, well, it's shootin' tuna in a 55-gallon oil drum (aka the Gulf of Mexico) to hate THEM, but the collaborators! On and on, back through the Western World's horrible, cruel, hagridden-by-God history...!

The Sarajevo Haggadah is to be pitied that it was created by human hands. Books can bear evil (The Turner Diaries) but few become the focus of such concentrated evil as Brooks paints this poor thing.

Brooks isn't any kind of an exciting writer, and her structure here...skippity-lurch, tilty-whirl...never got down into anything like the *good* parts of the people who puke, f*ck, and torture their way through the book. Too much to do, too much to tell, and I was left at the end of it all...blackly depressed. This may very well be the only time anyone will ever see me type this: Shoulda been longer. Or a short story. As it is, it's just a frustrating overachiever of a story, and that is annoying as all hell.
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LibraryThing member dono421846
Stunningly wrought tale of one book's history, told in reverse chronological order. Brooks gives just enough detail to evoke a given episode, leaving us wanting to know more, always more, but alas, history doesn't work that way. It is her careful attention the serious scholarly approach to book
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conservation and preservation that provides the backbone of the story. Only at the very end when she (in my opinion, needlessly) drops in a bit of Mission Impossible does she veer from the grounding of her account in ordinary lives of those the book touched. Gripping tale.
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LibraryThing member mrstreme
People of the Book is a fitting title for Geraldine Brooks’s latest novel. This book explored the many people who touched an ancient Hebrew codex that traveled through Europe for 500 years. Though a work of fiction, the book is based on a true story of the Sarajevo Haggadah, a Jewish manuscript
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that was rescued by Muslim librarians twice – once during World War II and most recently during the nationalist wars in Yugoslavia. The irony that Muslim men rescued a Hebrew text during times of cultural strife provided Brooks with her framework. But it’s Brooks’s fictional illumination of what else happened to the haggadah during its long life that further advanced the message of People of the Book - how people can do the right thing, despite religious differences and political rules of the time.

In this book, Dr. Hanna Heath, an Australian expert in book conservation, was called to Sarajevo at the beginning of the cease-fire to inspect the haggadah and unravel its mysterious origins. As she inspected the book, Hanna extracted several clues to its past: an insect’s wing, sliver clasps, red stains on the page, a morsel of salt and a white hair. As she investigated each clue, Brooks took the reader back in time to how each item found its place in the haggadah. The “flashbacks” are all fictional, but they provided a narrative on the treatment of Jews through the years, from the Spanish Inquisition to World War II – and how one book survived it, thanks to the love and care of the people who were entrusted to protect it.

Admittedly, I found some of the historical narratives a little drawn out, but each fact had its place in the large context of the story. Hanna’s personal life also entered into the story, which in my opinion did not add to the story of the haggadah but explained why she became so interested in the conservation of books.

All in all, I enjoyed People of the Book because of what it represents: “It was here to test us, to see if there were people who could see that what united us was more than what divided us. That to be a human being matters more than to be a Jew or a Muslim, Catholic or Orthodox.” The real Sarajevo Haggadah is testament to this feeling, and thank God there are people out there who remember that humanity should transcend everything else.

If you like religious historical fiction, I highly recommend People of the Book to you.
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LibraryThing member SandyAMcPherson
For my tastes in story structure, Geraldine Brooks made the classic mistake of derailing the reader's attachment developing with the main character (Hanna) and what the first 40 or so pages of the book indicate is the primary story. While the interleaved accounts in alternating chapters developed
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the Haggadah's backstory, these stand alone narrative excursions interfered with the tension of the ongoing story, and were extreme flights of speculation. Had these sections been condensed with the novel, keeping a focus on the codex's conservation, the potential backstory of the Sarajevo Haggadah would have been more effective.

Amid the politics between museums, the narrative floundered around telling why the Sarajevo Haggadah acquired a reputation as a groundbreaking codex due to it being illustrated etc. etc. So why wouldn't the story open with this aspect as a theme and tell the reader about the earlier travels and mysteries of the codex? Then the main 'present-day' tale could move forward seamlessly as part of the historical back story of the people who possessed the book through time (but more condensed with the the narrative of Hanna and her involvement)?

While Brooks apparently had a different agenda for her story, the published work came across as a meandering mishmash, with no real connections flowing between the changing story focus. The final letdown was the last six years of Hanna's life condensed out of the blue and then she's snatched back into the drama around the Haggadah in the final chapters. This last section was like reading a totally different book, especially since I was left with a sense of a rushed but fizzled completion.
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LibraryThing member Jackie.the.Librarian
I loved this book. It was a rocky start I must say. In the beginning I found it hard to identify with the main protagonist, Hannah - she seemed an over-privileged (slightly trollopy) snob for the first few pages but as I got to know her through Brooks' superb narrative I warmed up very quickly.
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This book is one of those that inspires the reader to pursue further knowledge on the subjects within. When I was done I went online and did a ton of research into the real Haggadah as well as the Spanish Inguisition and the history of Sarajevo. The People of the Book left me feeling slightly bruised, a little bent out of shape - but all for the better.
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LibraryThing member writestuff
Pulitzer prize-winning author, Geraldine Brooks, has written another stunning and impeccably researched book. People of the Book begins in 1996 when rare book expert (and conservator) Hanna Heath is summoned to post-war Bosnia to examine an ancient manuscript.

Between the pages of this incredible
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book, Hanna discovers clues to its history: a fragile insect’s wing, a missing clasp, a small wine stain, a drip of salt water and a single white hair. In alternating chapters, the clues reveal themselves and uncover the people whose hands the manuscript passes through…and remarkably the author and illustrator of the Haggadah. The reader visits Sarajevo in 1904, Vienna in 1894, Venice in 1609, Tarragona in 1492, and Seville in 1480. At the same time, Hanna’s story is also gradually revealed as she moves forward from 1996 to 2002.

People of the Book is inspired by the true story of the of the Hebrew codex known as the Sarajevo Haggadah. Brooks novel, however, is richly imagined - borrowing certain facts and then creating multi-layered characters and situations which immerse the reader in a fictional world of intrigue, emotion and wonder. Brooks did her homework - and People of the Book includes fascinating facts about early art history and the skill of book conservation, as well as the history of the Jewish people.

I found this novel immensely satisfying and one which I highly recommend for readers who enjoy world literature and have a fascination for books and art history, as well as for those who enjoy unraveling mysteries.
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LibraryThing member fig2
This is an extraordinary history of a Jewish prayer book.

As an archivist is repairing the book, she find 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
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book.

Unlike anything I've ever read, the images in this book are sharp and sometimes unbearable. There is one section that takes place during the Spanish Inquisition and I was barely able to read it - at one point I thought I was going to have to stop. It haunted me for weeks after I finished the book.

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.
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LibraryThing member BusyBookworm
People of the Book is a fascinating story about a beautiful, rare book which has survived centuries of threatened destruction only to be saved time and again by the people who have been captivated by it. The story’s main character, Hanna, is a rare-book expert and conservationist who is called to
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Sarajevo to study the Sarajevo Haggadah and learn all she can about this brilliant masterpiece. In her examination of the book she finds several small, seemingly inconsequential clues as to where the book has been and whose lives it has touched. The author cleverly weaves together chapters dedicated to each clue, i.e. “The White Hair,” with chapters of Hanna’s modern-day struggles to unearth the stories associated with the clues all while discovering some of her own tragic family history.

The characters of the book are well-developed and entirely believable. Hanna and her mother have a loveless, often caustic, relationship which becomes even more troubled when Hanna discovers secrets of her family history that her mother has kept from her all of her life. The mother-daughter dynamic is frustrating and sad, but realistic.

The stories surrounding the clues Hanna finds in the Haggadah offer fascinating glimpses into the lives of those living in Italy, Bosnia and surrounding areas during various times of anti-Semitic waves of violence throughout the centuries from the late-1400s to World War II. For many readers, these brief glances into the past will open their eyes to a long, history of violence and hatred toward a people that is hard to understand, but necessary to remember.

People of the Book was a thoroughly enjoyable read from beginning to end. It was very well written and incredibly intriguing. Often in books with more than one story line, one story will lack the ability to keep the reader just as enthralled as the parallel story. Such was not the case with People of the Book. Learning the stories of the people who unknowingly left clues in the Haggadah was just as engrossing as following Hanna as she discovered the mysteries of her own family history and what the Haggadah meant to her. People of the Book is recommended to anyone who enjoys being captivated by an excellent story and learning a bit of history at the same time.
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LibraryThing member wilsonknut
Brooks won the Pulitzer in 2006 for her book March, so I felt obligated to try People of the Book when I saw it on display at the mega-bookstore that shall remain unnamed. I feel guilty that I didn’t spend my money at the local independent bookstore. I had a gift card. What could I do.

The book is
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about the Sarajevo Haggadah, a Jewish religious text that tells the story of the Jewish exodus from Egypt. It’s believed that this Haggadah originated some time in the 14th century in Spain and made it’s way to Sarajevo, surviving Jewish expulsion, the Spanish Inquisition, World War II, and the Bosnian War. The Haggadah contains some beautiful illustrations similar to Christian prayer books, and one of them includes a Moorish woman. This raises several historical questions about why this Jewish text has Christian influenced artwork and a Moorish woman. Brooks’ fictional protagonist is a conservationist of ancient texts. She finds several clues as to the Haggadah’s origins and history while restoring it for the museum in Sarajevo. The chapters take the reader back in time to tell the fictional story behind each clue, which is pretty interesting, but several times Brooks uses corny plot twists along the lines of something from a Dan Brown novel. Most are in the present and involve the protagonist and her own little storyline. Overall, the book is about how multiculturalism is great and created this wonderful work of art, but I have to say I felt the Christians in this book took a beating. I know, the Inquisition. I can’t argue with that. I don’t want to give any spoilers, but there are several times Brooks could have gone in a different direction with certain characters. Again, the Dan Brown nonsense really turns me off. It wasn’t a lot, but that’s my pet peeve, especially coming from a writer who won the Pulitzer.

People of the Book is good, and it kept my interest, but it’s not as good as I thought it would be. I guess that’s what I get for not buying March, but I figured her follow up to the Pulitzer could only be better…right?
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LibraryThing member dianemb
A very enjoyable book written with romance and mystery. The author blends the present and the past together in a way that slowly gives us clues as to what we needed to know about the important book. The writing was thoughtful and intelligent.
LibraryThing member ForeignCircus
This truly excellent book that tracks the fictional history of the Sarajevo Haggadah is a must read. I've lived in Sarajevo, and felt Brooks perfectly captured the flavor of the city in the brief glimpses we see in the narrative. This is the story of a magnificent and unique work of art, a book
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that has survived overwhelming odds and serves as an inspiration merely by its continued existence. Though the true story of the Sarajevo Haggadah is compelling enough, this narrative serves as a "what if" about the creators and protectors of the book, a story that personalizes a truly incredible journey. As Hanna unravels the story of the Haggadah, she simultaneously uncovers the lost truth about her own life and family, and discovers the self she never knew she had. I cannot recommend this book highly enough- 5 strong stars!
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LibraryThing member readingrat
Geraldine Brooks always writes an interesting story. In the case of People of the Book I have to say I enjoyed this one more than either of her previous novels that I have had the opportunity to read, Year of Wonders and March. I really liked the construction of this novel. I enjoyed how each
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little item Hanna found within the pages of the Haggadah had it's own historical narrative wound within the tapestry of the modern-day story of the Sarajevo Haggadah's stabilization and display.
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LibraryThing member readingwolverine
While on vacation, I finished People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks. It was a fabulous summer read. Absolutely wonderful. Maybe its because of my nerdy interest in the subject, but I loved it :) The book is the story of a book, a very rare book to be specific. The Sarajevo Haggadah is found in
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Bosnia and leading book conservator, Hanna Heath, is called into restore the volume for display. Inside its pages, she finds several interesting fragments, such as a white hair and a grain of sea salt. She begins to investigate the origins of the fragments and the journey the book took through the ages. In conjunction with Hanna's story, the book flashes back to the book's story of how each object showed up caught in its pages and binding. Of course, there is family drama and a little love story too but all in all, its a story of history that unfolds beautifully, as the pages of a book, as it were :) I love the idea of a book or artifact having a story beyond just the historical significance of the text. Each book comes from somewhere and traveled along its own journey though people's lives. This book was fascinating and I recommend it as a quick and yet intellectual read.
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LibraryThing member Bookmarque
Normally I find multi-POV stories fascinating and the technique is one of my favorites. The ancient artifact traveling through history and meeting the people associated with it is also something I usually devour in a book. Why not this time? Why did I get bogged down in the middle of this and put
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it aside to read another book? I can’t quite put my finger on it, so maybe writing my review will help.

For one thing I found the “relationship” between Hanna and her mother to be a real strain. It was both formulaic and unbelievable. Brooks made mom such an unlikeable b*tch that she was almost funny. Maybe Brooks didn’t feel as if she had enough of a villain in any of the other characters so she decided to focus the reader’s negative energy in one (unlikely) place. On her own, Hanna is not that compelling, so maybe Brooks felt she needed a boost into our hearts. Sure she is only facilitating the story of the book, but that could have been done with Ozren and perhaps done better. I find it frustrating to be endeared to a character based on the negativity of another.

At least Hanna’s tenuous relationship with Ozren didn’t go by way of the clichéd thousands. Their distance and then his betrayal kept the smarm to a minimum, which was nice. Brooks did step into it with the teacher/mentor though. His betrayal of Hanna wasn’t exactly shocking, but I didn’t understand his motivation and the explanation was thin. Reparations for the war? Really? I didn’t buy it. And the whole red herring suspect was just played.

The saving grace was the stories of the people of the book. Not all of them were equally fascinating, but I enjoyed them all, especially the one that featured the book’s illustrator. I would have liked to know why she and the deaf/mute son were on the run though (from the story just after hers chronologically). That was never explained. I also liked the story of the War in Bosnia and Lola’s tale. Meeting her again late in the book was a nice touch. The stories about the Jewish/Christian clashes were a bit of a strain. I get tired of the persecution of the Jews rather quickly since it’s been so much a part of fiction and movies for my entire life. I know it and I get it and it’s horrifying, but also draining to read again and again.
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Original publication date

2008

ISBN

0670018215
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