People of the Book Synopsis
The “complex and moving”(“The New Yorker”) novel by Pulitzer Prize-winner Geraldine Brooks follows a rare manuscript through centuries of exile and war.
Inspired by a true story, People of the Book is a novel of sweeping historical grandeur and intimate emotional intensity by an acclaimed and beloved author. Called “a tour de force”by the San Francisco Chronicle, this ambitious, electrifying work traces the harrowing journey of the famed Sarajevo Haggadah, a beautifully illuminated Hebrew manuscript created in fifteenth-century Spain. When it falls to Hanna Heath, an Australian rare-book expert, to conserve this priceless work, the series of tiny artifacts she discovers in its ancient binding-an insect wing fragment, wine stains, salt crystals, a white hair-only begin to unlock its deep mysteries and unexpectedly plunges Hanna into the intrigues of fine art forgers and ultra-nationalist fanatics. (The Nile – Australia)
I just love books about books, so it goes without saying that I had my eye on this Geraldine Brooks title, People of the Book for some time. But when it was first published I read a few average reviews so was a little hesitant to purchase. That all changed when I saw the audio book version was narrated by Edwina Wren.
I had been impressed by Wren’s narration of the Tara Moss thriller Siren, and felt compelling narration would make up for some of the shortcomings others had mentioned of this novel – most notably an over-abundance of historical detail. I was not disappointed. I cannot reliably comment on whether the accents performed by Wren are even close to authentic of each character’s time, place and situation. I can however say quite emphatically that Wren does a wonderful job in differentiating between the myriad of characters and cultures present in this tale.
Geraldine Brooks conveys her own passionate interest in the story of the Sarajevo Haggadah through her penning of People of the Book.
Although I thoroughly enjoyed listening to this story and do recommend it (in audio), it does have some weaknesses. Geraldine Brooks personal interest in the subject has led her to at times dwell on historical detail to the detriment of the storyline that serves to pull the historical vignettes together. And feisty female protagonist Hanna Heath – on paper she ticked all the boxes for a character I would really like, but there were moments that just did not quite click. As one would expect from Brooks though, in the main her literary prose is first class.
I found the story of the Haggadah itself extremely compelling, and can understand Brooks’ passionate interest in the subject matter. I genuinely felt I learnt so much and am the better for having read this piece of fiction.
BOOK RATING: The Story 4 /5 ; The Writing 4.5 /5
Genre: Audio, Literature, Historical, Drama, Mystery
– Read a transcript of Geraldine Brooks talking about People of the Book with ABC Radio National’s The Book Show
Narrator: Find out more information about Melbourne based actress, Edwina Wren.