People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks is a fascinating novel centered around The Sarajevo Haggadah. The Haggadah is a jewish text that, according to Wikipedia, “sets forth the order of the Passover Seder.” During Passover it is common to read from the Haggadah as “a fulfillment of the Scriptural commandment to each Jew to 'tell your son' of the Jewish liberation from slavery in Egypt as described in the Book of Exodus in the Torah.” The Sarajevo Haggadah is an ancient copy of this sacred text that has been insured for a value of 700 million dollars. It is currently owned by the National Museum of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Sarajevo Haggadah is beautifully illustrated and that fact has caused historians to rethink their belief that, in Brooks's words, “...the commandment in Exodus 'Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image or likeness of any thing' had suppressed figurative art by medieval Jews.”
Geraldine Brooks has created fictional stories that parallel the real history of this tremendous book. Her characters live their lives around the book in Spain during the Inquisition, among a small group of freedom fighters resisting the Nazis during World War II, in Muslim homes, and in the Bosnian War.
One of the aspects of People of the Book that impressed me the most was way the people of different faiths interacted throughout the book. There was bigotry, murder, and rape, but also, at other times, trust and compassion. The scenes at various points in our world's history were always rendered in an intricate and believable fashion.
Hannah, an expert in the conservation of medieval manuscripts, is the novel's main character. Her work is fascinating, but so is her relationship with Dr. Ozren Karaman, the chief librarian of the National Museum and with her own mother, whose distance while raising her has crippled Hannah's emotions. The novel is as much about the “People” as it is about the “Book.”
Anyone interested in history, especially religious history, should read this book.
Steve Lindahl Author of Motherless Soul.
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