Nina's Reading Blog

Comments on books I am reading/listening to

People of the Book

Posted by nliakos on January 10, 2012

by Geraldine Brooks (Adobe EPUB eBook)

It’s pretty ironic to be reading this particular book as an eBook, because it is about the discovery in postwar Sarajevo and restoration of a medieval Haggadah (Passover prayer book) and is all about the physical book: binding, pages, tiny little bits of detritus stuck therein… But my Nook has been crashing tonight, really irritating (only a month old after all!), so I have to take a break and read an actual book.

(a few days later) Eventually, the Nook starting behaving again, so I was able to finish the book. It’s an intriguing idea: an expert conservator of medieval books and manuscripts (Australian Dr. Hanna Heath) examines the  500-year-old Sarajevo Haggadah which has turned up after being lost for many years. As the war in Bosnia is ending, Hanna travels to Sarajevo to examine and restore the ancient codex, which is unusual not only for its extreme age but also because it is lavishly illustrated–a rarity in Jewish manuscripts. She collects some tiny fragments (a bit of insect wing, a hair, a stain, some salt) and observes that there is a place for clasps, but no clasps), and sets off to consult several learned colleagues to try to figure out what they can tell her about where the book has been. They speculate, but they can never know how these things came to be in the book. However, Brooks can invent some plausible stories! Between the chapters describing Hanna’s work and life, we travel back in time as Brooks weaves fictional stories of how the artifacts got into the book. Our glimpses of the book’s history go farther and farther back in time, first to 20th century Sarajevo, then to 17th century Venice and finally 15th century Spain, where we meet the artist who created the illuminated illustrations.  It takes a novelist with poetic license to tell the story of the Sarajevo Haggadah.

Although parts of the book seem contrived, it is an enjoyable read and despite the fictionalization, an interesting journey into Jewish and European history.

2 Responses to “People of the Book”

  1. […] day. It tells the story of American book conservator Margot Harrington (Didn’t I just read a novel about a book conservator?) who travels to Florence in 1966 to help clean up after the Arno floods. She discovers a unique […]

  2. […] never heard of and proceeds to make you care about him/her/it. I have already blogged about People of the Book and Year of Wonders. They were marvelous, but no more so than this novel based on the little […]

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