People of the Book Review
People of the Book
is a fictitious account of the journey of a Jewish Book, partly based on a true story. Hanna Heath is an Australian rare book antiquarian and conservationist. When she receives a call early one morning she is told that the Sarajevo Haggadah, a Jewish Manuscript dating back to the late 15th century and the only one of its kind to have ever contained illuminations (pictures), was found in tact, and still in Sarajevo. It was first discovered there in 1894 and somehow miraculously survived the Nazi infiltration and the destruction of Hebrew materials, especially books. But when Sarajevo fell to Bosnia in 1992, it appeared to have been lost. Most suspected that it had been destroyed by the bombings, but others felt that Bosnian raiders smuggled it away. The Haggadah, a Jewish prayer book, had been saved by none other than a Muslim museum curator. It was a rare twist of fate for a Muslim to protect a Jewish artifact.
Hanna flies to Sarajevo to inspect the book, document her findings and make essential repairs. Within the binding of this manuscript she finds microscopic bits of foreign materials, things she might be able to use to gather information about where the book has been or who has handled it. She finds an insect wing, a wine stain, a small white hair, and a grain of salt. There is no way for Hanna to know the exact story behind its extensive travels from these small hints, but after Hanna has each specimen examined by forensic specialists, the author, Geraldine Brooks, takes the reader back in time to four different Jewish exiles in which the Haggadah survived and took with it the four pieces of evidence that Hanna now handled.
To be absolutely honest, I was not happy with this book. I wouldn’t go as far as saying I disliked it, I just couldn’t get into it. Because of most of the reviews I read, I was very excited about this book. People were comparing it to The Da Vinci Code. I can see why, but it wasn’t remotely close for me. It was too slow and too depressing. I cried on more than one occasion. The chapter on the Nazi extermination of the Jews in Sarajevo was heartbreaking. It was very emotionally moving. But for me, and this is my personal opinion, it was too slow and too sad. On top of that, each chapter dealing with the journey of the Haggadah had to do with Jewish exiles and annihilations. And this is something that many Christians today feel heaping piles of “Christian Guilt” for. It will always be important for us and our future generations to know what happened to our brothers and sisters in the past, so that we may prevent it in the future. But as for a bed time read, it made me want to smother myself with my own pillow.
I will say, thankfully, that I absolutely loved the ending. At the very end, and seriously when you least expect it, Hanna makes a final discovery in the book six years after her initial examination. In one of the more puzzling illuminations she discovers something that ties together the Muslim and Jewish cultures in one glorious book. And so the book actually begins with a Muslim, lives as a Hebrew book and ends in the protective hands of a Muslim. You will have to get to the end to see what I mean. It was positively a marvelous ending.
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