Summary: A Fictionalized history of the real Sarajevo Haggadah, an illuminated Jewish prayer book for the Passover Seder that is now around 500 years old.
Geraldine Brooks is one of those authors I keep meaning to read, but had not. I borrowed People of the Book from my library on audio. As with many fiction books I read, I had not even read the summary before I started the book.
The People of The Book is a historical fiction that is based on what is actually known of the Sarajevo Haggadah with fictionalized history to fill in what is not known. Brooks wrote an article in the New Yorker just before the book came out with some of the known history.
The real history sounds like fiction. Two different times, during World War II and during the Bosnian War, muslim curators of the museum where it was kept hid the book away to keep it safe. I will not detail the real history, but you can read it at the above link.
This book has been compared to Davinci Code, but that is a very poor comparison. It is not a fast moving thriller. And it does not have far-fetched religious motivations as a theme. Another comparison is to Susan Vreeland’s Girl in Hyacinth Blue. I have not read that one, but it sounds much more similar. In People of the Book, a book restorer and historian comes to evaluate and authenticate the Haggadah. Three samples that she takes from the book lead to three historical storylines from the history of the book.
Personally I thought it played out like the movie Memento. It starts near the end of the story and then goes backward revealing a bit more of the history each time. Then it returns back to the current storyline and plays out the last scenes.
This is not a fast paced book. But the history is interesting, especially since it is a real object and the recent history is based on fact. There is a theme of religious toleration that plays nicely with the subject matter. The Haggadah is a Jewish prayer book that seems to use Christian style of illumination and Muslim painting methods. The story line keeps bringing to the fore inter-religious dialogue and tolerance and then intolerance and the concept of book burning.
I also think that it does a good job with the characterizations. The characters are well developed, none are completely likable, none are completely evil.
I listened to this on audiobook. The narrator does a ton of voices and accents. To my untrained ear she does very well. But there are a couple of complaints on Amazon that the accents are wrong or the Jewish and Arabic pronunciations is poor. I don’t know either, so I was happy with it.
I enjoyed the book and have already put in a request to the library for another Geraldine Brooks book.
People of the Book: A Novel by Geraldine Brooks Purchase Links: Hardcover, Paperback, Kindle Edition, Audible.com Audiobook