July 11, 2016

Book Review: People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks

I was out of town for a couple of days, and missed picking up Geraldine Brooks's latest book - The Secret Chord. Whoops! So I've re-requested it from the library. I feel like I have a love-hate relationship with most of her books - I loved Caleb's Crossing and People of the Book, but I was super irritated by March, and had mixed feelings about Year of Wonder

My favorite, People of the Book, tells the story of the Sarajevo Haggadah, an illustrated Jewish manuscript from the 15th century that needs authentication from Dr. Hanna Heath, an Australian rare books expert. Hanna flies to war-torn Sarajevo in 1996, and is entranced by the beauty of the Haggadah. According to Jewish tradition, images of the Scriptures are not allowed, but this book proves the exception to the rule. Hanna finds several small clues hidden between the pages of the book: such as a wine stain, a salt stain, and a white hair, that set her on a quest to find out who created this unusual Haggadah, and why.

I liked that People of the Book revealed the secrets of the Haggadah in reverse order, starting with the story of a young Jewish girl running from the Nazis in WWII, and the Muslim family that protected her and the Haggadah. The story progressed from WWII back to turn-of-the-century Vienna, then back to sixteenth century Venice, then back to Spain during the Inquisition, and finally back to the source of the book. The book is told in alternating chapters, flashing back and forth between the story of Hanna in the present day, and the other people who helped protect the book over its long and varied history.

And I appreciated that although People of the Book could have easily fallen into the same silly historical-quest type mold as Dan Brown or Steve Berry or all the other copycats out there, it didn't. There was no big conspiracy, just a story of an intriguing young woman, her love for beautiful books, and this one particularly beautiful book that had touched so many lives over so many centuries. The plot was a tad predictable (the big surprise that Hanna is blindsided by was pretty obvious about six chapters earlier) but that's not a huge complaint, I didn't mind seeing exactly how the characters were going to get to that point of the story.

If you're looking for an enjoyable historical fiction book, I'd highly recommend People of the Book. And hopefully I can fill you in on The Secret Chord soon!

Are YOU a fan of Geraldine Brooks?