Thursday, November 29, 2012

Review: People of the Book

People of the Book
By Geraldine Brooks
Penguin Books 2008
372 pages
From my bookshelves

People of the Book

Hanna Heath is surprised and pleased when she is offered an incredible opportunity: she is asked to travel to Sarajevo to examine the famous Sarajevo Haggadah. This book is unique among Jewish volumes because it is one of the first to include images alongside its stories from the Torah. Hanna begins the painstaking work of discovering the potential origins of the book. As Hana finds small pieces of evidence, we are taken back into history to meet the men and women who made and preserved this remarkable book.

The Sarajevo Haggadah is a real book and a mystery among scholars. Ms. Brooks has imagined a possible history by having Hanna discover a clue or anomaly and then giving us the story behind it. The stories are beautiful and heartbreaking and I was constantly impressed by Brooks' ability to bring all of these characters in all of these different places and times to vibrant life. Lola, a Jewish freedom fighter who is taken in by a Muslim family; Giovanni Vistorini, the Catholic priest with the power to save or destroy the Haggadah during the Inquisition; and the young artist who creates the book are just a few of the characters we meet on these pages. There is something incredible about the importance each person grants the Haggadah and the ways in which they fight to protect it.

As Hanna pieces together the history of the book, she also makes important discoveries about herself and her family. Some reviewers find Hanna to be the weak link in this book, but I found her an interesting character. As she becomes close to the the director of the library museum, she finds her ideas about relationships and trust rapidly changing. Her already tenuous bond with her mother is tested when Hanna discovers that people in the present can keep secrets just as devastating as the ones that threatened and preserved the Haggadah.

People of the Book is, like many books that I adore, at its core about our relationship with this unlikely combination of paper and ink, pictures and glue. Books are important, and the people who realize that are our kindred spirits regardless of whether they are real life friends or just people we meet on a page. This is a gorgeous book that reveals the importance of words, faith, and love. It's one I will be returning to time and again. 


  1. People of the Book sounds beautiful :) It sounds like it's chock full of good learnin' too, love that!

    1. I love speculative fiction. These stories seem so real, I think, because Brooks really understands universal experiences - losing hope, finding family, realizing purpose.
      It's a great book. I hope you get the chance to read it!