People of the Book is a lovely story. At its heart is an appreciation of a sacred Jewish text and the sacrifices different people with differing religious beliefs have been prepared to go to to keep it safe over the centuries. It is a fictionalised history tracing the turbulent journey of an actual document, the Sarajevo Haggadah.
The story is told in alternating chapters. Hanna, a rare book restorer from Australia is invited to Bosnia for a precious viewing of the Haggadah which has surfaced after many years. While examining it, a mystery of sorts presents itself. Where has it been? What do the small clues she finds reveal about it’s history. Hanna follows these clues around Europe and calls on her contemporaries and mentors to help her along the way. Hers is the contemporary voice of the story and is balanced nicely with the historical chapters which trace the life of the Haggadah through the centuries, countries and wars. These historical chapters are thoroughly researched and each chapter is beautiful in its own right – introducing us to life in a different time and place.
While the style of the alternating chapters worked well, I liked the present day character and story of Hanna less than the historical parts – she was a little brash and over patriotic at times for me!
This is a huge story – not so much in the number of pages but what it covers. The edition I read had an interview with Geraldine Brooks at the back where she acknowledged the huge task it was and that it took several years on and off to complete. I guess all authors give a lot of themselves when writing a book but I could sense that especially with this book.