Monday, January 21, 2008

Review: People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks

People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks is being hailed as the latest DaVinci Code-like novel to take readers by storm. It is 1996 and Hanna Heath, a rare-book conservator, has been commissioned to work on the Sarajevo Haggadah. A haggadah is a manuscript that is used at Passover to tell the story of the Exodus. The Sarajevo Haggadah is illuminated, which is rare, as Jews did not normally use likenesses in these manuscripts. The haggadah has recently been discovered again after disappearing from the national library during the Bosnian war. It was saved by a librarian, Ozren, who risked his life to spirit it out of the library during intense shelling. Hanna, a fiercely independent Australian, arrives in Sarajevo and spends a week documenting and conserving the haggadah before it is to be placed in a special exhibit at the museum. During her work, she discovers three items inside the book that she hopes will help her to discover its origin: a butterfly wing, a drop of salt water, and a single white hair. The remainder of the novel goes back and forth in time as we learn about the people who not only created the book, but who saved it. These tales are interspersed with the modern tale of Hanna discovering who her father is and her disintegrating relationship with her mother. I truly enjoyed this novel and think it is far superior to The DaVinci Code. It is not action-packed, nor very suspenseful, but as the title suggests, it is about people. Each small section of the historical record is compelling and riveting and made me want to know more about the characters and their fates. I heartily recommend it.

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