November/December Pick 2010

People of the Book

Book cover art People of the Book

by Geraldine Brooks

 

From the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of March, the journey of a rare illuminated manuscript through centuries of exile and war.

In 1996, Hanna Heath, an Australian rare-book expert, is offered the job of a lifetime: analysis and conservation of the famed Sarajevo Haggadah, which has been rescued from Serb shelling during the Bosnian war. Priceless and beautiful, the book is one of the earliest Jewish volumes ever to be illuminated with images. When Hanna, a caustic loner with a passion for her work, discovers a series of tiny artifacts in its ancient binding—an insect wing fragment, wine stains, salt crystals, a white hair—she begins to unlock the book’s mysteries.

The reader is ushered into an exquisitely detailed and atmospheric past, tracing the book’s journey from its salvation back to its creation. In Bosnia during World War II, a Muslim risks his life to protect it from the Nazis. In the hedonistic salons of fin-de-siècle Vienna, the book becomes a pawn in the struggle against the city’s rising anti-Semitism. In inquisition-era Venice, a Catholic priest saves it from burning. In Barcelona in 1492, the scribe who wrote the text sees his family destroyed by the agonies of enforced exile. And in Seville in 1480, the reason for the Haggadah’s extraordinary illuminations is finally disclosed. Hanna’s investigation unexpectedly plunges her into the intrigues of fine art forgers and ultra-nationalist fanatics. Her experiences will test her belief in herself and the man she has come to love.

Inspired by a true story, People of the Book is at once a novel of sweeping historical grandeur and intimate emotional intensity, an ambitious work by an acclaimed author.

About the Author

Australian-born Geraldine Brooks is an author and journalist who grew up in the Western suburbs of Sydney. She worked as a reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald for three years as a feature writer with a special interest in environmental issues.

In 1982 she won the Greg Shackleton Australian News Correspondents scholarship to the journalism master’s program at Columbia University in New York City. Later she worked for The Wall Street Journal, where she covered crises in the Middle East, Africa, and the Balkans. She was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in fiction in 2006 for her novel March. Her first novel, Year of Wonders, is an international bestseller, and People of the Book is a New York Times bestseller translated into 20 languages. She is also the author of the nonfiction works Nine Parts of Desire and Foreign Correspondence.

Brooks married author Tony Horwitz in Tourette-sur-Loup, France, in 1984. They have two sons and two dogs. They divide their time between homes in Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, and Sydney, Australia.

Reviews

"...a tour de force that delivers a reverberating lesson gleaned from history." - SF Chronicle

"People of the Book shows the author’s gift for entering difficult, pivotal times in history with a story so psychologically intimate and sensual that we feel we’re there." - More

"…dazzling new novel… Brooks writing at her very best… Her gift for storytelling, happily, is timeless." - Publishers Weekly

"With an ingenuity equal to that standing behind her Pulitzer Prize–winning March…a marvelously evocative journey backward in time." - Booklist (Starred)

"Each story is engrossing and deftly woven into the narrative…." - Library Journal

"A.S. Byatt published her literary mystery Possession almost 18 years ago, and it's been a long dry season for the genre since...Brooks has, however, half found and half invented a swashbuckling book...haunting and satisfying…." - LA Times

"…enthralling historical mystery…Rich suspense based on a true-life literary puzzle…" - Kirkus

Great Links

Author Web site

SF Chronicle book review

About the Sarajevo Haggadah

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