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Peopleofthebook_pob

Geraldine Brooks is one of those authors I keep meaning to read. I had her book “Year of Wonders” by my nightstand for quite a while and never cracked the cover. One of my perpetual problems is actually getting past the first few chapters. I joined a bookclub recently at my library which is great because it forces me to read these books! The other nice thing about this club is that I don’t have to go hunting for the book or buy it since the library provides our own copy. I semi-belong to another group but don’t often go because they pick their books only 4 weeks in advance which doesn’t give me enough time to get it from the library or get it from a friend. (My book money is reserved for school books!)

So People of the Book is one of my favourite reads of the year. I have had a great year for reading books including The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, The Historian, Book of Negroes, The Book Thief, Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night among others… It’s funny how you can have such a good run of books while at other times it’s a virtual desert.

The People of the Book centers around the story of Hannah Heath an Australian rare book expert and her opportunity to analyze and restore the Sarajevo Haggadah. The real protagonist of the story is not Hannah but the book itself. Hannah’s story in Sarajevo is interspersed with vignettes featuring the history of the Haggadah. Like the Jewish people, the history of the Sarajevo Haggadah is just as tumultous and full of persecution. As Hannah examines the Haggadah she finds various clues that provide a window into the history behind the book’s history.

I couldn’t put this book down and raced through each section of it.  I loved Hannah’s story and found her relationship with her mother both aggravating and fascinating. I work with ancient texts everyday but never with the real scrolls. It was really interesting for me to hear how much went into the production of an ancient text like the Haggadah. Brooks did a great job of capturing the enduring life of a book rather than seeing it as an ancient witness of one time period. Instead the Haggadah becomes a witness of each successive generation that possessed it. This is best illustrated by Hannah’s refusal to remove the wine stain from the manuscript since it has become part of the story.

After reading this I realized how ignorant I was of Sarajevo and its history. I lived through the events of the Bosnian war and saw the bombing on TV. But it was a distant reality and reading this book made me realize how passive we are as a society. Having read both this and The Historian has made me curious about central and eastern Europe. Perhaps a trip is in order.

I highly recommend this book. In light of this, I will definitely have to give Year of Wonders another try.

Rating: 9.5/10

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