Thursday, September 29, 2011

People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks

Title: People of the Book
Author: Geraldine Brooks
ISBN: 9780143115007
Publisher: Penguin, 2009
Paperback, 400 pages
Genre: Fiction
Rating: A+
Source: Purchased at The Poisoned Pen.

First Line: I might as well say, right from the jump: it wasn't my usual kind of job.

Australian rare book expert Hanna Heath has been asked to conserve the beautifully illuminated fifteenth-century Sarajevo Haggadah, a priceless Hebrew manuscript thought to have been destroyed during the fighting in Bosnia.

As many times as I've worked on rare, beautiful things, that first touch is always a strange and powerful sensation. It's a combination between brushing a live wire and stroking the back of a newborn baby's head.

As Hanna examines each page with great care and wonder, she discovers a series of tiny artifacts left behind in the manuscript: a fragment of an insect's wing, wine stains, salt crystals, and a white hair. These microscopic bits are the keys to unlocking the centuries' old mysteries of the Sarajevo Haggadah and the catalysts that will change Hanna's life forever.

As the insect's wing, then the wine stains, then the salt and hair are analyzed, we learn the history of the ancient book and the lives of the people who had it in their care. Anyone who has ever picked up a book, caressed its cover, and ruffled through its pages wondering about the identities of previous owners or all the places that book has been will absolutely love People of the Book. As Brooks takes us through the centuries, each time period and each caretaker comes to vivid, aching life.

I was deaf and blind to everything around me as I read this book. It's not the first time author Geraldine Brooks has done this to me, and since her latest book (Caleb's Crossing) is on its way to my door, I don't think it will be the last. She is one of the supreme storytellers of her time.

What Hanna does the last time she's with the Haggadah made me cry and made me smile. It also made me think. Around the world today books are under attack from technology, economy, ignorance and indifference. How many of us would be willing to do whatever it takes to ensure their survival?


  1. I loved this book. My book group discussed it some time ago and it was definitely a winner. In fact, we had one member bring a haggadah to show us. Very, very interesting. Geraldine Brooks holds the title of "most discussed" with that group. We've done at least 3 of her books and will likely include the new one next year.

  2. That does sound marvelous! I do often wonder about people who have read a book before me.

  3. I spent so much time living the history of the book as I read this: picturing the book passing through each phase and each owner...such a rich story!

    Brooks is indeed gifted. I loved "March" and also "Year of Wonders"

  4. Kay-- Being able to see a haggdah would've been great. This would indeed be a wonderful book group choice. I was so fired up after I read it that I would've been a motor mouth if I'd been there! LOL

    Kathy-- So do I!

    Debbie-- I haven't read March because I wasn't that interested in the subject matter, but I loved Year of Wonders, and I intend to visit the village the book was set in when Denis and I go to the UK for our next visit.

  5. I have all of Brooks' books on my TBR and have no idea which one to start with, but this one is certainly looking even more intriguing.

  6. I loved Year of Wonders and want to read both this and March.

  7. Carrie-- I've read two (Year of Wonders and People of the Book), and just received a copy of Caleb's Crossing this afternoon. People of the Book edges out Year of Wonders for me, if that's any help.

    Stephanie-- If I were standing by you, I'd be waving a copy of People of the Book in your face! LOL

  8. One of my favorite books also - glad to see you enjoyed as well. I also loved The Year of Wonders, but there has been a mixed response to that. I have Caleb's Crossing and look forward to picking that up soon.

  9. Natalie-- I tend to like historical fiction written about the plague. (Yes, I admit that I'm strange!) I can see myself picking up my copy of Caleb's Crossing in the very near future.


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