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.
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.