Book reviews

Archive for the ‘Brooks – Geraldine’ Category

People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks

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After reading People of the Book, I can now see what all the fuss is about Geraldine Brooks. I didn’t like March and although I enjoyed Year of Wonders slightly more, I was starting to think this author wasn’t for me. Happily, I found the actual background of People of the Book to be enormously intriguing and I also enjoyed the sections of the book which were set in contemporary times.

This story is based on the actual past of a book known as the Sarajevo Haggadah. This is an old and extremely rare illuminated Jewish prayer book which has survived destruction many times.

In People of the Book, an Australian book conservator, Hanna Heath gets the job of her dreams when she is employed to go to war-torn Sarejevo to restore the book. During the restoration, Hanna discovers clues in the book, each of which are used as a tool for the author to go back to a time in the book’s past and tell of how certain elements of the book came into existence, or how it survived times when Jewish people were being killed and their religious artifacts destroyed.

At the end of the story there is an afterword where the author says which of the stories were based on fact and which were fiction. Since then I’ve looked at photos of the Sarajevo Haggadah and read up on the facts of its history, along with looking into elements of Jewish religion, particularly Passover Seder, when this book would have been used to retell the biblical story of the freeing of Israelite slaves in ancient Egypt. I’ve enjoyed my research as much as I enjoyed reading the story.

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Each of the historical sections of the story were well developed and gave me an actual sense of fear or at the very least, anxiety, depending on the circumstances the characters at that time. I was also interested to learn that the people of various religions at different times got along the way people should, and enjoyed seeing the respect and affection and tolerance they had for each other.

An illustrated version of People of the Book would go down a treat.

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Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks

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Year of Wonders is by Geraldine Brooks, who wrote the best-seller March.

March is the story of the father in Little Women while he was away at the Civil War, and it was a shock to my system. I expected Mr March to be good, in the way that Beth and his other ‘Little Women’ were, but instead I learned that Mr March sometimes does the wrong thing. I didn’t enjoy March because it made me feel as if a hero had fallen from his pedestal, although maybe that was the point. I only read Year of Wonders because a friend loaned me her copy. Funnily enough, I’ve loaned my friend Little Women to read before she reads March.

Year of Wonders is the story of Anna Frith, a young widow living in an English farming community in 1666, at a time when plague was decimating the population. After her husband died in a mining accident, Anna took in a boarder from London who unwittingly brought the plague to the area. After her boarder died, plague spread throughout the community, with Anna’s two young sons amongst the earliest victims.

Despite her grief, Anna worked tirelessly beside the minister and his wife as their community rapidly lost numbers to the plague. The minister asked their neighbours to quarantine themselves within the town’s boundaries and most agreed, although the richest family in the district left the area as quickly as they could.

Anna works as a servant to the minister and his wife, Elinor, and during the year had the opportunity to learn and grow from her proximity in particular to Elinor, whose goodness is almost saintly. Anna’s behaviour to me seems almost saintly too, and during the year in which the story takes place, she acts as a midwife, nurses countless plague victims and learns about herbs and their healing powers as she and Elinor attempt to curb the disease in their community. Anna and Elinor also become very dear friends. During this time the minister provides spiritual comfort to the dying, as well as practical help by digging graves.

When Elinor is murdered the minister falls apart emotionally. Anna continues with her work, and also continues to protect the minister, despite learning secrets about his and Elinor’s relationship which cause him to fall from the pedestal Anna had placed him on.

The one thing that I think I will remember about this book for the rest of my life was a female character warning Anna not to get too attached to her babies. This was because so many babies died, not just from the plague, but from all sorts of other diseases which babies in first world countries don’t die from anymore. Heartbreaking.

While I enjoyed the first part of the story and particularly liked Anna and her strength of character, I thought the last part of the book went a little bit off course. I also thought that the twist revealed in the epilogue was too predictable. However, Year of Wonders is a good book and I imagine most people who read it will take something from it, and you can’t say that about every book you read.

 

 

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