Having won a Pulitzer Prize with “March”, her re-telling of “Little Women”, Brooks has moved onto deeper and darker ground with this novel about a book.
Not just any book. A Jewish Book which has survived more that 500 years of turmoil, book burnings and human terror. Finally resurfacing in Sarajevo near the end of the Bosnian War. A real book with an unknown history. The Sarajevo Haggadah.
Brooks creates a possible history for the book and the people who have been associated with the book. The glimpses into the world of book restoration are fascinating and the glimpses into the lives of the people around the Haggadah are warming yet horrifying. While most of us have learned that 1492 is the date Columbus discovered America, how many of us also know that it was also the year that Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain, having defeated all the Moorish Muslims within their borders, decided they no longer needed the Jews and expelled them all. It seems the whole history of the volume is a series of rehearsals for the tragedy of the Bosnian Civil War during the ’90’s.
The research into both history and book restoration is meticulous. The dedication is to the most important people in human society, the Librarians. The great fear is that the book burnings could happen yet again.
Possibly the sole disappointment of “The People of the Book” is the way Brooks has drawn the relationship between the emotionally damaged restorer, Hanna, and her over-achieving mother. This may simply be a male reviewer’s reaction to the often repeated war between mothers and daughters.
How readable is “The People of the Book”?
After buying the book, I also went shopping and purchased some chicken and some Butter Chicken simmer sauce. I love Tandoori style chicken. I was really looking forward to that for my dinner. But first I had to walk back two bus-stops when I realised I had missed my stop. I must learn not to read on the bus! Then, way after dinner time, as the stomach growled in anger, I made myself a quick honey sandwich. I finally turned the last page at 2.15 am. I guess I will have to wait till tonight for my chicken.
But now I shall be able to eat it while contemplating the survival of a very special book. And remembering a well told tale which will live with me.