Monday, February 25, 2008
PEOPLE OF THE BOOK by Geraldine Brooks
I really detested Brooks' last novel, MARCH, so I was very hesitant to pick up her latest offering. However, the subject matter of PEOPLE OF THE BOOK sounded so interesting that I could not pass it up.
Have any of you ever seen the film "The Red Violin." If so, you will find the plot of PEOPLE OF THE BOOK very familiar. The story begins with a medieval haggadah turning up in Sarajevo in the midst of the chaos of the late 1990's. An Australian book conservator, Hanna Heath, is called in to stabilize and repair the very special book. As Hanna works, she uncovers several fibres and other bits and pieces within the book that she sends out for analysis. Each small piece will add something to the story of the haggadah and its creation.
The book travels back through time as each successive piece of fiber or other ephemera is identified. We slowly learn about the history of the book and its origins through these small clues. This is the most fascinating part of the story--the discovery of how the book came to be and the many people who had a hand in protecting it. However, the framing storyline of Hanna in the present really slows down the plot and seems unnecessary. I understand what the author was trying to accomplish but I didn't think that storyline was particularly effective.
The Sarajevo haggadah is a real book while the story presented in Brooks' novel is sipmly speculation. However, it reveals the lengths that people who truly love books will go to in order to protect them. Whereas I found MARCH to be a particularly slow and tedious book, PEOPLE OF THE BOOK propels you forward and makes you anxious to discover the origins of such a fascinating piece of history. It is definitely a book for people who love and value books.