Tuesday, 26 January 2016

People of the Book, by Geraldine Brooks

I recently wrote a review over on the History Girls about a book called Caleb's Crossing, by an author I hadn't read before called Geraldine Brooks. In the comments, Michelle Lovric and Sue Bursztynski both recommended another book by her called The People of the Book.

So off I went and ordered it. I'm SO glad I did - and thank you, Michelle and Sue - because I enjoyed it enormously. It was one of those rare books that is so good that you feel bereft when you've finished it.

It's about a very precious Jewish book, the Sarajevo Haggadah, which is centuries old and very unusual because, unlike the vast majority of Jewish religious texts, it is beautifully illustrated. A young Australian conservator, Hanna Heath, is asked to examine and restore the book. As she does so, she finds tiny clues - a white hair, a fragment of a butterfly's wing, a salt water stain. She follows each of these clues tenaciously, ad so builds up a picture of the book's journey to Sarajevo - where it has recently been saved in a time of war twice, both times by a Muslim.

Hanna is a prickly character with a lot of emotional baggage, and she has her own story. Into this are woven stories, based on the clues, that reveal the book's past. What is remarkable is firstly that Hanna's own story is as compelling as the flashbacks embedded in it (which I think is quite unusual with this kind of structure) - and secondly that each story has its own highly distinctive voice. None of these, of course, are remotely like the voice used in Caleb's Crossing - yet all of them seem entirely convincing and authentic.

I think this is an extraordinary achievement and a dazzlingly clever novel, and I'm very much looking forward to reading her other books. One, which Sue and a friend of mine have both recommended, is A Year of Wonders. This is about the plague village of Eyam in Derbyshire, which is my home county. I know the story well, and I'll be very interested to see what this remarkable writer does with it.

1 comment:

  1. So glad you enjoyed it as much as I did! The book is real by the way. You can find pictures from it on Google, including the one described in th novel. The museum in which it is kept was closed for three years but reopened late last year.