A book for book lovers, that is 'People of the Book'
Geraldine Brooks’ People of the Book is a meta-literary, meta-historical story. It follows Hanna Heath, a rare book conservation expert, and her interaction with a wondrous tome, the Sarajevo Haggadah. Then, it unfurls like a flower, and the stories of those touched by the Haggadah come to life to suck us into a condensed, human experience of some of the most difficult times in European history.
Brooks imagines the lives of her characters with beautifully accurate historical detail, interweaving the fiction with the fact nearly seamlessly; all the characters have their own traits to both sink and redeem them. The message, it seems, is that nobody is perfect, life is tough, but what matters is how we choose to live and the legacy we leave behind.
Who would enjoy this
This book is not pulp fiction, but solid literature. Therefore, I highly recommend it for people who like history, who like narrative craftsmanship, who are interested in putting aside the time for the whole experience of reading.
Also, those who have a particular interest in European, Jewish, and women literature will find their minds regaled.
Who should give this a pass
If you are looking for an easy read, a giggle and a break away from life, look away. This is not a summer read, or a blockbuster-in-the-making, kind of volume, more due to the subject matter than anything else.
Moreover, I would not gift it to anyone who is not interested in the subjects it depicts, or who prefers ‘perfect’ heroines.
Conclusions and suggestions
It may already be apparent from the beginning of this commentary, I really enjoyed this book. Ms Brooks’ mastery is everywhere, stroke by stroke, in the way she researches, builds and narrates. There is an elegance, an understated humanity in her work which I find wonderful yet rare in present day publishing. She also manages to pique the readers’ interest when creating doubt, holding it to the last minute.
If I had to pick on an issue with this book, is how dense it is. There is a lot of personal, technical and historical details to handle, which does at times create overload. Added to this, the suddenness of story change, while effective, is quite hard on the reader, who will still mull over what happened to the previous character. Also, it covers a multitude of sociopolitical issues, some of which go undetected behind all the events taking place. A limitation on the number of items in Brooks' agenda would have left the readers as delighted, I would suggest.
All in all, however, this is an outstanding book. Do you self a favour, and don’t miss it!