read_warbler (read_warbler) wrote,
read_warbler
read_warbler

People of the Book

I've finished this book at last! I seem to have been reading People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks for weeks on end although it is, in fact, probably only ten days. Anyway, this is my third book for the historicals challenge I'm doing.




Hanna Heath is an Australian restorer of ancient books and texts. The phone rings in the middle of the night and she's offered the opportunity of a lifetime - that of restoring a centuries old Haggadah, which is a Jewish, illuminated book. Unfortunately, the book is in wartorn Sarajevo where it was saved from the bombs by a librarian. Hanna travels to Bosnia to meet 'Ozran', who saved the book, and to examine the volume for herself. In the process of restoring it she finds several clues to its journey from the 15th. century to present day... an insect's wing, a grey hair, a couple of stains, salt crystals. Hanna's life is complicated, she never knew her father and has an unsatisfactory relationship with her mother who is an eminent brain surgeon. She also has difficulty maintaining relationships with men, shrugging them off the minute they start to get close.

The story within the story focuses on the Haggadah's history. We journey back through the Bosnian war of the 1900s, see how it survived the Nazi invasion of the Balkan states, witness Vienna in the 1890s, Venice in the 1600s and so on, right back to the book's creation in Seville in 1480. Various characters people the account, priests, a young Jewish girl escaping from the Nazis, a Jewish book restorer who is addicted to gambling, a young slave girl...

Running alongside this is Hanna's story - her investigations into the book, conclusions she reaches about the clues she discovers, her train-wreck relationship with her mother and the eventual discovery of who her father was and what that leads to. When she accepted the job, Hanna had absolutely no idea that it would change her life forever.

I wish I could say that I loved this book because I really did want to. That's not to say I *dis*liked it - not at all. I found it interesting, heart-wrenching, educational... all kinds of things in fact, but hardly ever gripping. If I put it down I was never bothered about picking it up again and sometimes actively avoided doing so. Until the last fifty pages, when I suddenly became wrapped up in events and wanted to read on to see what happened to Hanna. I can't really explain it, because I can't name anything that was actually wrong with the book at all. I'm inclined, though not convinced, to think it might have been my mood. Sometimes I'm in the mood for something a bit more challenging and maybe I'm just not at the moment? I don't know; it makes no sense.

Anyway, this is going to the charity shop unless someone wants to grab it off me? You would be most welcome. I'm in the minority with my reaction to this one - most seem to love it. As it's my plan to read quite a few books off my tbr pile this year and weed them out a bit, I have no complaints about doing that with this book.
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