People Of The Book: A Novel

Paperback | December 30, 2008

byGeraldine Brooks

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The bestselling novel that follows a rare manuscript through centuries of exile and war, from the author of The Secret Chord and of March, winner of the Pulitzer Prize.  

Inspired by a true story, People of the Book is a novel of sweeping historical grandeur and intimate emotional intensity by an acclaimed and beloved author. Called "a tour de force"by the San Francisco Chronicle, this ambitious, electrifying work traces the harrowing journey of the famed Sarajevo Haggadah, a beautifully illuminated Hebrew manuscript created in fifteenth-century S pain. When it falls to Hanna Heath, an Australian rare-book expert, to conserve this priceless work, the series of tiny artifacts she discovers in its ancient binding-an insect wing fragment, wine stains, salt crystals, a white hair-only begin to unlock its deep mysteries and unexpectedly plunges Hanna into the intrigues of fine art forgers and ultra-nationalist fanatics.

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From the Publisher

The bestselling novel that follows a rare manuscript through centuries of exile and war, from the author of The Secret Chord and of March, winner of the Pulitzer Prize.  Inspired by a true story, People of the Book is a novel of sweeping historical grandeur and intimate emotional intensity by an acclaimed and beloved author. Called "a ...

Geraldine Brooks is the author of four novels, the Pulitzer Prize-winning March and the international bestsellers Caleb's Crossing, People of the Book, and Year of Wonders. She has also written the acclaimed nonfiction works Nine Parts of Desire and Foreign Correspondence. Her most recent novel, Caleb's Crossing, was the winner of the ...

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Format:PaperbackDimensions:416 pages, 7.71 × 5.06 × 0.72 inPublished:December 30, 2008Publisher:Penguin Publishing GroupLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0143115006

ISBN - 13:9780143115007

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Rated 4 out of 5 by from A Book With a History I read this book for a book club that I sometimes attend once a month. This book is about a book. A book that was made in the 1400's and has survived to the present day. It has passed through many hands and traveled many miles It is a religious book that people of several different faiths worked to produce and to protect. The story starts out with a book restorer seeing what she can find out about the book. As we go back in history, stories about the book start to emerge. The history of the main character is also revealed as the story goes along. There are two stories being told as the book proceeds. I found this to be an interesting story. Although it was historical fiction, it had some basis in real history. I found this to be something to catch my interest. I found the historical stories to really contribute to the overall story. Although there was one main character in the book, her character was only developed enough to keep the story going. She did seem a little flaky at times. I liked the book and would recommend it.
Date published: 2015-12-17
Rated 4 out of 5 by from People of the Book I really enjoyed both the over-story and the under-stories of this book. I learned a lot about book binding and the Jewish faith.
Date published: 2015-02-03
Rated 2 out of 5 by from People of the Book This was an interesting fictionalized account of an historical event. Unfortunately the storyline is at times confusing and muddled. I cannot highly recommend it but in a way it tries to symbolize Muslims and Jews long interwoven history.
Date published: 2014-09-06
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Confused Some twists in the book were to simplified. I did not believe. A little boring also, even though I guess writer gave big effort to do all background work. But not enough for me to recommend it. Sorry.
Date published: 2014-01-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Confused This book was completely enthralling. It is a wonderful historical fiction based off of true events. If you enjoy historical fiction, this is a great book to add to your shelves. The historical aspects of this book are captivating with a great deal of research. There are often complains about the off-putting nature of some characters in the book, but if you want to fall into the story, instead of being attached to the characters, then this is a book for you!
Date published: 2014-01-24
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Great Book I love how the story for Hanna goes forward in time while the story of the book goes back in time. Makes the book more interesting and fun to read.
Date published: 2013-10-24
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Great Book As a collector of books and an artist this was an enjoyable and well researched story. A fictionalized account of the history of the Sarajavo Haggadah, from its initial creation, through salvation and discovery. Multiple character arcs intersperse with the main story and make it easy to check back on who's who when you need to. A great read.
Date published: 2013-10-04
Rated 4 out of 5 by from very interesting Hanna Heath, a young Australian book conservationist is summoned to Sarajevo in order to preserve the Sarajevo Haggadah, a Jewish prayer book about passover. Hanna gets to work and finds clues as to the hands it once passed through; a bit of butterfly, a stain. This books tells a story both in the present and the past. I was much more interested in the past story as it covered various Jewish persecutions and the stories seem to come to life. The present story was a little contrived and not quite as believable, starting with Hanna being such a great restorer at such a young age. The past travels through Bosnia where a Muslim hid the book to preserve it, Austria-Hungary, Italy and Spain where this illuminated manuscript was first created and saved when the Jews were expelled, I also liked to read the story on the conservation efforts. All in all an interesting read!
Date published: 2013-01-27
Rated 3 out of 5 by from An Enjoyable Book I enjoyed this book and found it was like a series of short stories within the main story. Each individual that came in contact with a very old Hebrew Haggadah had their own compelling tale to tell over the centuries. It was a very interesting read from start to finish.
Date published: 2012-07-16
Rated 3 out of 5 by from More interested in Hanna's story 3.25 stars Hanna is a book conservationist and is called in when a book that is hundreds of years old has survived the war in Sarajevo in 1996. It was thought the book was long-destroyed. As Hanna studies the book, there are “flashbacks” explaining where the book has been and what happened to it, and who had a part in creating it. I was much more interested in Hanna’s story and what was going on with her, then in the flashbacks of the book. The flashbacks initially, to me, made the book feel like a bunch of short stories, tied together by the book, but short stories, nonetheless. I’m not a big fan of short stories, as I feel like, just as I’m starting to know the characters and what’s going on, it’s finished. Later in the book, the flashbacks felt like an interruption of Hanna’s story, which is what I was more interested in.
Date published: 2010-07-27
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Very good Excellent emotional story lines, though a little slow in some spots.
Date published: 2010-05-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Definite Page-Turner I picked up this book because it had gotten so many good reviews and was a little apprehensive because of all the hype that it would let me down, but it honestly didn't disappoint. I love how Brooks has woven several different times together to create a history that we can only guess at and follow the Sarajevo Haggadah through time and its journey with many different people. It's amazing to think that so much can be learned from simple items that travel with an item such as a seed, and though this work is complete fiction, you see just how much can be gleaned by researchers and how much is guessed at. Truly a great read!
Date published: 2009-08-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Simply Excellent! Wonderful...amazing...a step back in time. So much tragedy in this book, so much pain for so many of the characters. I loved following the creation of the Sarajevo Haggadah backwards into time...even though the Haggadah exists, the story that Brooks weaves is pure fiction. But if you close your eyes, it's all reality as you're reading. Hard to put this one down!!
Date published: 2009-03-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from People of the Book by geraldine Brooks Geraldine Brooks’ novel People of the Book is an amazing, well-crafted story about such eternal themes as betrayal, persecution, temptation and weakness as well as faith, hope, redemption and love. Book restoration is Australian Dr. Hanna Heath’s life to the exclusion of all else, and she has been given an opportunity to work on the Sarajevo Haggadah, an illuminated Jewish manuscript, supposedly the only of its kind in the world…most Jewish texts only containing words. As Hanna works to restore the Haggadah in Sarajevo, she discovers minute artifacts within the pages…an insect wing, a wine stain, salt crystals and a white hair, each with its own history to reveal. Hanna travels to colleagues in different places around the world, using their expertise to help her discern the artifacts origins, and as she follows their trail not only is she forced to confront the truth of who she is and where she came from, but her own faith in herself. I thought the story was a wonderfully unique and inspiring concept for a book. The book flows back and forth through history, between Hanna in Sarajevo in Spring of 1996 and different periods in history relating to each artifact. We are shown the life of the Haggadah…and its endurance through time. While the main themes are the persecution and sacrifice of Jews, this story is not confined to Judaism but to each person’s religion or faith, whatever it may or may not be. At times the stories of the lives relating to the artifacts are wrenching, making the story feel all the more meaningful and real. People of the Book imparts an appreciation for learning, teaching and knowledge. Brooks goes into much detail about the technical aspects of book restoration and illumination, as well as providing discourse on differing views in religion. I have always found overly descriptive and overly detailed (other examples being Congo by Michael Crichton and Contact by Carl Sagan) books very appealing, although I know a lot of people do not like so much detail. People of the Book is very nicely balanced between storyline and detailed descriptions. I highly recommend People of the Book to anyone and everyone. It’s a piercing story that will long leave an impact on you. I am almost reluctant to suggest other recommended reading because I don’t think there are many similar high quality novels out there and if there is I have not yet read them. If you appreciate fiction moving back and forth through time, as well as the endurance of belief and faith in the face of persecution, I would suggest Labyrinth by Kate Mosse and The Book of Love by Kathleen McGowan.
Date published: 2009-01-26

Extra Content

Bookclub Guide

INTRODUCTIONHanna Heath has cultivated a life of exquisite detachment. Raised by an aloof and often absent mother, she has eschewed any kind of deep emotional involvement. But—as an expert on rare books and an Australian whose nationality makes her the least controversial political choice to inspect a priceless Hebrew codex—Hanna is about to be plunged into a dangerous drama that will force her to confront both her past and the passions she has worked so hard to conceal.It is 1996 when Hanna first flies to Sarajevo. The city’s peace is new and still tenuous, but the opportunity to inspect the famous Sarajevo Haggadah is a career maker that she cannot pass up. A lavishly illuminated medieval Hebrew text, this haggadah is an anomaly that has fascinated scholars for generations and its survival in war-torn Bosnia is hailed as “a symbol of the survival of Sarajevo’s multiethnic ideal.”Initially put off by her armed U.N. escort and the intense scrutiny of the National Museum, where she is forced to perform her delicate work, Hanna is nonetheless mesmerized by the book’s astonishing beauty. She studies its inks and parchment and recovers a fragment of an insect wing, salt crystals, wine stains, and a single white hair from between the delicate pages. She also notes that the clumsily rebound book is missing its original clasps. Each discovery is a clue that offers to unlock a chapter of the haggadah’s mysterious history.But Hanna becomes involved with more than the book during her time in Sarajevo. After she completes her initial documentation and repair work and leaves the city, she remains haunted by the few nights of intimacy she shared with Ozren Karaman, the Muslim librarian who braved enemy shelling to rescue the hagaddah. As she travels from Vienna to Boston and then to London in the hope of deciphering her scant evidence, Hanna fleshes out shadows of the book’s past. Simultaneously, Brooks reveals the gripping tale of survival behind each miniscule artifact.During World War II, a young partisan is saved by the same Muslim who risks his life to protect the haggadah from the Nazis. In fin-de-siècle Vienna, a Jewish doctor unwittingly plays a role in the theft of the book’s clasps. In Inquisition-era Venice, a Catholic priest’s most damning secret spares the book from burning. In Tarragona in 1492, a poor scribe completes the text just days before the expulsion of Spain’s entire Jewish community. And in Seville in 1480, the unlikely artist paints a self-portrait into the Seder illustration.Hanna is thrilled by her discoveries, little suspecting that her professional and personal worlds are about to come crashing down around her. When she returns to Sarajevo under very different circumstances, Hanna can no longer remain a dispassionate observer and finds that she has become one of the “people of the book” whose passions and sufferings, nobility and frailty, contribute to the hagaddah’s continuing history.The author of the Pulitzer Prize–winning March and Year of Wonders, Geraldine Brooks has made a name for herself as one of the foremost novelists of our era. In People of the Book—inspired by the true story of the Sarajevo Haggadah—she brilliantly interweaves an epic historical saga of persecution and survival with a powerful modern-day tale of private betrayals and international intrigue.ABOUT GERALDINE BROOKSGeraldine Brooks is the author of Year of Wonders and the nonfiction works Nine Parts of Desire andForeign Correspondence. Previously, Brooks was a correspondent for The Wall Street Journal, stationed in Bosnia, Somalia, and the Middle East.A CONVERSATION WITH GERALDINE BROOKSQ. Your previous two novels are set during Europe’s plague years and the American Civil War. Now, you’ve created an epic story about art and religious persecution. What is it that draws you to a particular subject, or a particular historical era?I love to find stories from the past where we can know something, but not everything; where there is enough of a historical record to have left us with an intriguing factual scaffolding, but where there are also enough unknowable voids in that record to allow room for imagination to work.Q. What do you think it is about the real Sarajevo Haggadah that has allowed it to survive the centuries?It’s a fascinating question: Why did this little book always find its protectors when so many others did not? It is interesting to me that the book was created in a period—convivencia Spain—when diversity was tolerated, even somewhat celebrated, and that it found its way centuries later to a similar place, Sarajevo. So even when hateful forces arose in those societies and crushed the spirit of multiethnic, interfaith acceptance, there were those individuals who saw what was happening and acted to stop it in any way they could.Q. Were you already working on People of the Book when March won the Pulitzer Prize? How does winning such a prestigious award affect your writing?I was working on People of the Book even before I started to write March. I’d been struggling quite a bit with the World War II story: It’s such a picked-over period and I was looking for a backwater of the war that wouldn’t perhaps feel so familiar to readers. That search was leading to a lot of dead ends when I suddenly got the idea for March and it was so clear to me how to write that book that I just did it.The “Pulitzer Surprise,” as my then-nine-year-old son so accurately dubbed it, affected my writing only in that it interrupted it for a while by drawing renewed attention to March. But after a few weeks of pleasant distraction I was back at my desk, alone in a room, simply doing what I’ve always done, which is trying to write as best I can, day after day.Q. Book conservation is hardly a glamorous job, but Hanna’s framing narrative is every bit as action-packed and compelling as the stories in the hagaddah’s history. What inspired her creation?Because I like to write with a first-person narrator, getting the voice of the book is everything to me. I’d struggled a lot with my first idea, which was to have the conservator be Bosnian. I love the way Sarajevans express themselves; it’s a kind of world-weary, mordant wit overlying an amazing ability to absorb and survive great suffering. But I wasn’t getting the voice and the book was stalled as a result. Then I suddenly thought, Well, why shouldn’t she be Australian? That’s a voice I can hear clearly. Hanna came alive in my head and as a result the contemporary story, which I’d originally thought of as merely a framing device for the stories from the past, became much more important.Q. The scientific resources that Hanna employs to find out more about the book’s artifacts are really fascinating. How much of that is drawn from actual research and how much springs from your imagination?I went to labs. I interviewed scientists and conservators and observed their work. But the book is fiction, not a technical treatise, so experts will be able to spot a place or two where I took some small liberties.Q. The Jewish people have endured extraordinary trials. How much about this history did you know before writing the book?Most of it. The whipsaw of Jewish history has fascinated me since I was in junior high.Q. Who is your favorite character and why?That’s like asking a parent to name a favorite child. Hanna became like a good mate, and I actually miss hanging out with her. But I feel a certain tenderness towards all of the characters, perhaps especially the most flawed ones.Q. People of the Book is set in so many different eras. Was it a more difficult book to research and write than your previous novels?There was definitely more to research, but it wasn’t difficult. I loved the various journeys—actual and intellectual—that it took me on. Seeing the domes and spires of Venice shimmering in the watery morning light; having the great privilege of meeting Servet Korkut, who supported her husband in resisting fascism; watching Andrea Pataki painstakingly take apart the real Sarajevo Haggadah—these are experiences of a lifetime.Q. Will the book be published in Bosnia, and if so, what kind of reception do you anticipate?I hope it will. I have no idea about the reception. It’s very presumptuous, what I do—meddling around in other people’s history. When I went back to Eyam, the plague village, I fully expected a faction of the townsfolk to want to have me clapped in the stocks. (They still have them there.) To my intense relief, the people I met had really embraced the book. I had the same feelings of trepidation when I went to read March in Concord, Massachusetts. I was delighted to be met at the reading by Louisa May Alcott (Jan Turnquist, director of the remarkable Orchard House Museum, in costume), who thanked me for being one of the very few who had tried to understand and appreciate her father. So I hope the people of Bosnia will forgive me for taking liberties with their history and see the book as a tribute from someone who was inspired by the remarkable spirit of Sarajevo.Q. What are you working on now?I’m just at the earliest stages of exploring an intriguing story set very close to home, on Martha’s Vineyard. It concerns people who lived on this island in 1666, one of my favorite years, and seems to have just the right mix of knowns and unknowables—a lovely incomplete scaffold to build on.DISCUSSION QUESTIONSWhen Hanna implores Ozren to solicit a second opinion on Alia’s condition, he becomes angry and tells her, “Not every story has a happy ending.” (p. 37) To what extent do you believe that their perspectives on tragedy and death are cultural? To what extent are they personal?Isak tells Mordechai, “At least the pigeon does no harm. The hawk lives at the expense of other creatures that dwell in the desert.” (p.50) If you were Lola, would you have left the safety of your known life and gone to Palestine? Is it better to live as a pigeon or a hawk? Or is there an alternative?When Father Vistorni asks Rabbi Judah Ayreh to warn the printer that the Church disapproves of one of their recently published texts, Ayreh tells him, “better you do it than to have us so intellectually enslaved that we do it for you.” (p. 156) Do you agree or disagree with his argument? With the way he handled Vistorni’s request?What was it, ultimately, that made Father Vistorini approve the haggadah? Since Brooks leaves this part of the story unclear, how do you imagine it made its way from his rooms to Sarajevo?Several of the novel’s female characters lived in the pre-feminist era and certainly fared poorly at the hands of men. Does the fact that she was pushing for gender equality—not to mention saving lives—justify Sarah Heath’s poor parenting skills? Would women’s rights be where they are today if it weren’t for women like her?Have you ever been in a position where your professional judgment has been called into question? How did you react?Was Hanna being fair to suspect only Amitai of the theft? Do you think charges should have been pressed against the culprits?How did Hanna change after discovering the truth about her father? Would the person she was before her mother’s accident have realized that she loved Ozren? Or risked the dangers involved in returning the codex?There is an amazing array of “people of the book”—both base and noble—whose lifetimes span some remarkable periods in human history. Who is your favorite and why?

Editorial Reviews

"Less flash and more substance than The Da Vinci Code . . . The stories of the Sarajevo Haggadah, both factual and fictional, are stirring testaments to the people of many faiths who risked all to save this priceless work." - USA Today "As full of heart and curiosity as it is intelligence and judgment."-The Boston Globe "Intelligent, thoughtful, gracefully written and original." -Jonathan Yardley, The Washington Post "Erudite but suspenseful . . . one of the most popular and successful works of fiction in the New Year."-Alan Cheuse, NPR / "All Things Considered"