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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.

Comments

This sounds a little similar to "The Source" by Michener, which was extremely long but very gripping, at least to me. I read it the summer before taking a big trip to Israel. It's about a certain city in northern Israel, using the framing device of a tell which archaeologists are working on. They dig through the layers and find an artifact in each one, I think about 8 in all, and then the author goes back and tells a story about each period, beginning with the stone age and the beginning of farming, and ending with the war in 1947. The tell is based on a real one, with a different name I think, but all the artifacts and most of the characters are made up. There are also various stories set outside Israel, for example in Spain during the Inquisition or ghetto life in medieval Italy (it's related because some of the characters eventually ended up in Israel. I think).

I'm sorry you didn't like this book all that much, because I really enjoyed Geraldine Brook's "Year of Wonders. I recommend that one. It's short and quite lovely, and about the plague.
I love the Sound of The Source and will try to find it at the library. Haven't read any James Michener in years.

I have Year of Wonders on my tbr pile so will get to that at some stage.
This is on my tbr pile already, though thank you for the offer. (3 for 2 offers are so seductive, aren't they, lol? I always end up buying one book I might otherwise not have!)
And funnily enough, I've picked it up a couple of times to start and put it down again. Maybe I'll take it to Cornwall with me next week! If the weather is anything like it is today, we shall be spending some time tucked up reading quietly!
I think next week is meant to be better, although you're not off to Cornwall until the 9th. are you? I have a note here reminding me to e.mail you about that but have been really busy this week. Family here for Good Friday but will be sure to drop you a line over the weekend, Rosie.
I keep thinking about Londonronnie and her daughter's wedding on Monday - do hope the weather picks up for them, it's not been the weather for standing around in thin dresses this week, has it? Let's all keep our fingers crossed for some sunshine (or at least the absence of snow!) for them!
And yes, you're right we are going on the 9th. But I hate to tell you, that is next week, albeit the end of the week! I obviously mentioned it to you - I knew I'd meant to but couldn't remember whether I had or not. Memory like a sieve!
No worries though, I know how family things take over!
Have you read 'Year of Wonders' (also by this author)? I picked it up in a charity shop, knowing nothing of the author, and loved it!

I have 'People of the Book' on my own tbr pile :-)
I've got Year of Wonders on my tbr pile and am thinking I should have read that instead of People of the Book. On the other hand, it was interesting in various respects so am actually glad that I have read it.
LJ is being a bummer today not letting me log in! grrr
It's still really slow tonight, Pat. grrrr indeed...

Funny, we were in Porlock today (Somerset coast) and as we were leaving in the car I looked up and there on a house was a street name - 'McCoy's Corner'. I laughed... wish I could have got a photo.
you forgot your camera??? agghhh! lol
Nope, I had it with me but we'd passed it and there was no place to stop the car anyhow. Funny moment though. I did take other photos which I'll download tomorrow and stick a few on the blog if they're any good. Weather was dull and misty so they might not be.
ahhh ok...
I like that icon what's it from?
As far as I know it's not from anything, just from a batch of countryside icons someone made. I thought it so pretty.
bummer that means it can't be found.. I'd love to see it large lol.. yeah mossy trees are nice! lol
Hang on, I'll go see who made it and whether there's any clue where it's from...
This is the journal of the gal who made it but it seems like a lot of her icon batches have been deleted.

http://community.livejournal.com/girlyb_icons/

I also think her pics were 'stock' photos - found online.