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People Of The Book

People of the bookPeople of the Book is the historical mosaic of a Spanish-Jewish Haggadah. After innumerable revolutions, momentous advances and the innovation of technology in society, the public still finds itself drawn to the thrill of ancient history told by the pen of a novelist.


These fiction writers have transformed the genre of historical fiction, romanticizing the events that were once predominant to the survival of entire civilizations. The stories have come in many forms through the telegrams and letters of Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows’ The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society or the secrets hidden behind paintings in Tracy Chevalier’s Girl with a Pearl Earring. The tales of forbidden romance, endurance and survival have rekindled the love for history in modern society and now after he Pulitzer-winning novel March, Geraldine Brooks brings to the table another masterpiece, People of the Book, to remind the readers that everything is possible.

Brooks’ People of the Book is a world of history condensed in the pages of a novel. Inspired by a true story, People of the Book is a historical mosaic written to revive the story behind the survival of a Spanish-Jewish Haggadah. Brooks sweeps the reader through vibrant landscapes and exhilarating adventures that range from the shelled vestiges of Sarajevo during the Bosnia War to the enchanting panoramas of medieval Spain.


In People of the Book, Brooks links the events that took place around a valuable codex with the life of her central character Hanna. Brooks intertwines the past history of the Haggadah to the present life of her protagonist.

In 1996, Hanna, a book conservationist, embarks on the journey of her career as she has been given the task to restore a Jewish Haggadah to its earlier conditions. As a passionate conservationist, Hanna reflects on the importance of this task and the history of the Hagaddah: “the Sarajevo Haggadah, created in medieval Spain, was a famous rarity, a lavishly illuminated Hebrew manuscript made at a time when Jewish belief was firmly against illustrations of any kind.… When the book came to light in Sarajevo in 1894, its pages of painted miniatures had turned this idea on its head and caused art history texts to be rewritten.”

Hanna is soon entangled between rediscovering the history surrounding the survival of the Haggadah and balancing her emotional life. She is captivated by the Sarajevo librarian hero, Ozren Karaman, who in turn carries a great burden. Hanna is also constantly assailed by her disillusionment in relationships and commitment. She is unable to maintain a durable relationship mainly because of her prior relationship with her mother.

More over, when Hanna finds remains of substances and other fragments caught between the pages of the Haggadah, she is forced to rediscover the journey of this Sarajevo Haggadah and this is where the story gains momentum. Throughout the novel, Brooks develops mini-stories of the characters that were once in possession of the Haggadah and were subsequently eminent to its survival. She illustrates the book’s journey through Spain, Venice, Vienna and finally Sarajevo.

Brooks’ work is admirable and unique as the Haggadah’s “Blue: intense as a midsummer sky, obtained from grinding precious lapis lazuli.” The novel is effortlessly narrated through the eyes of multifaceted characters that are caught between their personal stories and the journey of the Haggadah. Geraldine intertwines the historical quest of her protagonist with the emotional entanglements that surge as a result of the Haggadah. The Haggadah plays a dominant role in the characters’ maturity. Further, Brooks builds on the recorded history to assemble her plot. “By linking research and imagination,” explains Hanna, “sometimes I can think myself into the heads of the people who made the book.” This is exactly what Brooks has done in this novel; she has created a world from the fragments of historical records. Geraldine Brooks transcends the meaning of historical fiction, effectively creating another marvelous novel that promises to sweep the reader in a whirlwind of powerful emotions.


The survival of the Haggadah, as Ozren states, is “a symbol of the survival of Sarajevo's multiethnic ideal.” People of the Book depicts this idea as the stories behind the fragments of the Haggadah come to life through the illustrious narration of the novelist. People of the Book is a symbol of the multiethnic history that has joined the world together through centuries. Brooks has once more succeeded in developing a story that intertwines history and fiction. People of the Book has rejuvenated the love for history in the readers; it has come to be our own personal Haggadah filled with exquisite writing and engaging historical tales.

Geraldine Brooks, a journalist and Pulitzer-winning author for her novel March, continues to captivate the admiration of scholars and readers throughout the world.

Viking. 372 pp. ($25.95)

 

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