people of the book

Title :: People of the Book
Author :: Geraldine Brooks
Completed :: Feb 23 2008
Challenges :: The Pub
Rating :: 4/5

I might as well say, right from the jump: it wasn't my usual kind of job.

This book like so many people who have reviewed said, was fantastic! The main character of this book is in fact a book, a haggadah (the word haggadah means telling and it was used as a fulfilment of the scriptual commandment to each Jew to tell their children about the Jewish liberation from slavery in Egypt). The haggadah written about in Brooks' book is actually based on a real haggadah, the Sarajevo Haggadah that appears to be one of the oldest and has survived a number of close calls with destruction. It orginated in Barcelona around 1350, based on notes written in its margins it surfaced in Italy in the 1500s and was eventually sold to the National Museum in Sarajevo in 1894. During World War II the haggadah was hidden from the Nazis and later smuggled out of Sarajevo to be hidden with a Muslim cleric. It was returned to Sarajevo only to survive the Bosnian war in 1992 by being stored away in the basement of a bank. In 2001 the Bosnian Jewish community along with the United Nations restored the manuscript and it was put on display in 2002.

While most of Brooks' book is fictional a lot of it is based on historical fact. Brooks was present when the haggadah was undergoing conservation and she was responsible for writing an article in the New York Times titled 'The Book of Exodus' where she told the story of Dervis Korkut, the man who saved the haggadah from the Nazis. It also told the story of a young Jewish girl, Mira Papo whom Korkut and his wife hid from the Nazis much like the haggadah. This story is obviously the inspiration for the flashback to World War II and the story of Lola who was hid by the museum director and his wife, the same man who took the haggadah into safety. At the end of the book Lola's story is told again only she is older and working in Israel where she discovers the haggadah hiding amongst some books. In real life Mira Papo didn't find the book in Israel but she did save Korkut's daughter from the Serbian genocide in the 1990s while in Israel.

A lot of people have compared this book to The DaVinci Code and I just don't see that. Sure there's the same sort of intrigue, trying to solve a mystery about a religious icon... but Brown and Brooks have a totally different style. Brown's book is fast paced, edge of your seat, what's going to happen next, a sort of race against time whereas Brooks' book is set at a slower pace and is trying to relay the story of a journey. Brooks weaves a tale where the reader is given time to digest the haggadah's journey and has time to feel compassion and understanding for the characters involved in the haggadah's passage. There is no rush to get to the end of the book. With Hanna firmly rooting the reader into the present there is no sense of danger, sure the haggadah is in danger in the past but the reader knows in the back of their mind that the haggadah is safe and sound in the present where Hanna is working to solve its mysteries so there is no imminent peril in store for the haggadah... that the reader is aware of anyway.

I think a lot of people worry about reading a book when it is set up in a series of flashbacks from the present but Brooks made it work perfectly. Hanna uncovers a set of materials from the haggadah during her conservation, a wine stain, a white hair, salt, etc. It is these objects that individually lead to a flashback as to how they got into the haggadah. I enjoyed this book immensely. In fact the flashback to 1609 Venice inspired me to watch The Merchant of Venice again since it takes place around the same time. Brooks highlights the fact that Jews are meant to live behind the walls of the ghetto and walk around wearing red hats to mark themselves as Jews which is the same exact situation going on in Shakespeare's play. The movie is excellent although at the same time I found it a bit anti-Semitic. Makes me wonder if Shakespeare felt this way or if he was simply portraying Venice at that time. Anyway if you haven't seen it yet I recommend you do, it has Joseph Fiennes, Al Pacino and Jeremy Irons - all great actors! Also read People of the Book it was fantastic!

Other Thoughts ::
: you're next - reviewed this book? Leave a comment with the link!

. listening . friend of mine . lily allen . alright, still .


posted by Ashleigh @ 11:53,


At 4 March 2008 at 08:15, Blogger Marg said...

Having loved Geraldine Brooks' other fiction books I am very much looking forward to this one!

At 6 March 2008 at 21:11, Blogger Danielle said...

I really liked the Brooks book, too. I don't really see the comparison to Dan Brown's book either, but anythink religious seems to get compared to his book. I didn't realize how much of the story was actually true. She obviously did a lot of research. I like her slower style more, too.


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    ashleigh (ash'lė) n.
    1: egyptologist; currently living in the uk attempting to obtain a phd in egyptology, hoping in the end there will be a job.
    2: literary; reading to escape reality, to improve conversation, for inspiration.
    3: crafter; crocheting and needlework, creating heirlooms, keeping the world warm.
    4: dreamer; head in the clouds, full of fantasies, wishing to be someone else, somewhere else.
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