People of the Book (Review)

August 27, 2011

Book cover for "People of the Book" by Geraldine Brooks.Title: People of the Book

Author: Geraldine Brooks

Narrator: Edwina Wren

Publication Year: 2008

Pages: 384 (audio length: 13 hours 58 minutes)

Genre: Fiction, Historical Fiction

Source: Audiobook version purchased from Audible.com

From the cover:

In 1996, Hanna Heath, an Australian rare-book expert, is offered the job of a lifetime: analysis and conservation of the famed Sarajevo Haggadah, which has been rescued from Serb shelling during the Bosnian war. Priceless and beautiful, the book is one of the earliest Jewish volumes ever to be illuminated with images. When Hanna, a caustic loner with a passion for her work, discovers a series of tiny artifacts in its ancient binding — an insect wing fragment, wine stains, salt crystals, a white hair — she begins to unlock the book’s mysteries. The reader is ushered into an exquisitely detailed and atmospheric past, tracing the book’s journey from its salvation back to its creation.

In Bosnia during World War II, a Muslim risks his life to protect it from the Nazis. In the hedonistic salons of fin-de-siècle Vienna, the book becomes a pawn in the struggle against the city’s rising anti-Semitism. In inquisition-era Venice, a Catholic priest saves it from burning. In Barcelona in 1492, the scribe who wrote the text sees his family destroyed by the agonies of enforced exile. And in Seville in 1480, the reason for the Haggadah’s extraordinary illuminations is finally disclosed. Hanna’s investigation unexpectedly plunges her into the intrigues of fine art forgers and ultra-nationalist fanatics. Her experiences will test her belief in herself and the man she has come to love.

Inspired by a true story, People of the Book is at once a novel of sweeping historical grandeur and intimate emotional intensity, an ambitious, electrifying work by an acclaimed and beloved author.

Yet again, I’ve read a book this month that has totally knocked me off my feet.

I downloaded this audiobook about six months back, and kept putting off listening to it in favour of other titles. I’m wishing, now, that I had read it earlier, because it was absolutely fabulous.

There are so many different characters and time periods portrayed in People of the Book, and yet Brooks manages not to overwhelm the reader. I think part of this has to do with Wren’s amazing job as the narrator: she differentiates between the major characters and makes it very clear when the time period has changed. I think that this might be the same in the print version of the book, though I imagine that it might be a little bit less clear since there wouldn’t be the audio cues (such as different accents) to help out.

All in all, it was the depth of character and of emotion, and the level of detail with which the story is told, that made this book stand out for me. Something that I really loved, and that I think is absolutely integral to the text, is the relationships between people of different faiths and nationalities. It was really great to hear about Jews, Christians, and Muslims helping each other out in various time periods and situations. (In case you didn’t know, “People of the Book” is the term used in the Qur’an to connote Christians and Jews, sometimes translated from the Arabic as “People of an Earlier Revelation”.) So it was really fascinating for me to read about the lengths that the characters went to, time and time again, to help each other out and to preserve such an important artifact of a people.

There are so many elements to this story that could draw you in, but I’ll keep it short and sweet: Read. This. Book. You won’t be disappointed.

Rating:


This book is a part of the Ramadan Reading event happening here this month.

You can find other posts in the series by clicking on the image to the right, or by taking a look at the schedule of posts and reviews.

4 Comments

  • Amy August 29, 2011 at 7:29 am

    So glad to hear you liked this! I read it in print years ago and really really loved it as well 🙂

  • Alyce August 30, 2011 at 7:37 pm

    I loved this one too! Have you read Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly? It’s about a completely different topic and time period, but in some ways the story structure was similar (and I thought it was very good).

  • Bailey (Window Seat Reader) September 3, 2011 at 3:12 am

    I want to read all of Brooks’ fiction works eventually. I read the one about the plague (blanking on the title now) this summer and was amazed at the depth of research that seemed to have gone into it. Great review!

  • Care September 13, 2011 at 6:19 pm

    I own this book and don’t know where I have put it! I will read this and can only assume that it is waiting for me to find that perfect time. I expect to love it.

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