People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks

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People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks

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Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Elaine Dingsdale
Reviewed by Elaine Dingsdale
Summary: An evocative and engrossing novel which ranges through six centuries of the history of a book and the people who guarded it. Highly recommended
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 356 Date: January 2008
Publisher: Fourth Estate
ISBN: 978-0007177431

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People of the Book charts the history of the Sarajevo Haggadah, which is considered to be one of the most valuable books in the world, and which has survived to this day against all odds. It is likely that it originated in Barcelona in about 1350, and was smuggled from Spain during the Inquisition by the Spanish Jewish community.

This stunning novel is breathtaking in its emotional and factual scope. Starting from such a monumental concept, Brooks has woven an absolutely stunning saga, both of the precious book, the people who made it, and those who guarded it with their lives.

Beginning during World War II the novel goes backwards in time, documenting its journey. Each of the sections covers a specific period in the Haggadah's history, and concludes with the investigations and conclusions reached by Hanna, the conservator/historian. In this way, we get a gradual picture and understanding of the importance of the book.

Alongside, the people who created and cared for the book, are portrayed beautifully. Each of them suffer immensely, enduring hardships and persecution, and their history on a personal level is also well narrated. The characters come alive as their stories unfold. Although diverse in their position in life - from priest, to noble, to slave - their role in the Haggadah binds them together, ensuring their posterity, as representatives of their kind.

Each section encapsulates an engrossing, at times catastrophic, period in history, and the author brings the differing locations alive with a verve and splendour which is simply magnificent. We suffer alongside the protagonists, rejoice at their triumphs, and take pride and comfort from the fact that mankind can achieve truly miraculous feats. It would be impossible to choose a favourite section, as all are tremendously atmospheric and evocative in their own right, although special mention could be made of Saltwater, which was moving in the extreme, alternately plunging the reader from the depths of despair to soaring hope for the future.

Surprisingly, the novel concludes with an unexpected twist, bringing it into the present time. In some respects, this would be my only criticism/complaint, as it seemed almost superfluous to the overall plot - although it did tie up any potential loose ends. Somehow, this seemed to end the novel on a slightly mundane level rather than the soaring heights which it had previously reached. But - a minor criticism, and one which doesn't detract significantly from the overall wonder of the novel.

I simply cannot commend this book highly enough. The research involved, must have encompassed religious/historical/geographical/linguistic/conservation/political - and a few more besides! The author deserves every praise and recognition for this astonishing novel, which works so well, on so many levels. An engrossing and moving read.

If you enjoyed this book then you might also enjoy The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon.

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Buy People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks at


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