People Of The Book / Geraldine Brooks

While a work of fiction, People of the Book was inspired by the true story of an illustrated Hebrew manuscript created in fifteenth-century Spain.  This Haggadah ended up in a museum in Sarajevo.  During the Bosnian war, a Muslim librarian rescued the book when the museum was being shelled and he hid it for safekeeping.  Earlier, in 1941, a renowned Islamic scholar had spirited the manuscript away to a mosque in the mountains when the Nazis threatened to burn every book associated with Jewish culture.  Based on these facts, Brooks creates a novel to explain how the Haggadah came to be and the different hands it passed through before finding a home in Sarajevo.  The account she crafts is fascinating and colorful.  However, I found that its parts exceeded the whole.  Binding the story together is the narrative of a book expert who is given a chance to analyze and conserve the manuscript.  The recounting of her family history and love interests pales in comparison to the other fictional historical figures she presents to explain the book’s history.  The heroine’s uncovering of a theft of the Haggadah after examining it, especially, seemed an unnecessary plot twist.  For me, it gets in the way of the tales she weaves regarding the book’s creation and survival to the present time.  It is these voices from the past and their involvement with the Haggadah that make the novel such an enjoyable read.  Brooks’ storytelling gifts shine brightest when dealing with imagined historical figures rather than its contemporary heroine.

 

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