Monday, September 21, 2009

People of the Book

People of the Bookoffers Pulitzer Prize winner Geraldine Brook's conjectures into the history of a rare Medieval haggadah which survived the Inquisition, invasions, book burnings and the Bosnian war. Book conservator, Hannah Heath is charged with examining the book which is about to be put on display at a museum in Sarajevo. What follows is part Biblio-CSI, part historical fiction and part modern fiction dealing with dysfunctional families. I found the descriptions of book conservation fascinating. Perhaps you have to be rather nerdish or bookish to do so. If you aren’t maybe this book isn’t for you.

The novel moves back and forth between the “present” and Hannah’s work and life and the past when the book was created and saved. Since it did go from one era to another and another, I found I was quite aware of the structure so I didn’t completely forget that I was in a story. I always knew I was reading a story that a writer constructed.

Hannah’s like a lot of intrepid single women, usually they're detectives. She’s very independent, sleeps with one of her colleagues, but maintains an emotional distance and was an only child with a demanding parent. She was interesting, but other than her work, she wasn’t unique. Also, I couldn’t believe that a smart woman would agree to take on the mission she took on at the end. That didn’t ring true.

Still it’s a good story that introduces one to interesting bits of history like life for Jews in the Middle Ages, and gambling practices in days of yore. I did find the voices of some of the historical characters to sound very much alike. Their narration was almost identical. Also occasionally, I just quietly groaned when there was a statement like “I smelled the rank smell of fear.” Yeah, right. The history is intriguing though and I learned about these eras and book illumination.

Bridget read and reviewed this novel a few months back.