My rating: 3 of 5 stars
People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks is a series of stories based around the extraordinary survival of an illuminated Jewish prayerbook known as the Sarajevo Haggadah.
The story begins in 1996 in Sarajevo immediately after the Bosnian War. Hanna Heath, a rare book expert from Australia, has been sent to investigate and report on the Haggadah. Each historical clue found within its pages begins a new story of the book's travels across Europe over the course of 500 years, and of the people who assisted in its creation and survival.
From 1996 the reader is transported back in time, first to Sarajevo during World War II where the book is rescued from the Nazis; then to 19th Century Vienna during the rise of anti-semitism; Venice at the time of the Inquisition; Barcelona and the Jewish Exile from Spain; and Seville in 1480 where the creator of the magnificent illuminations is revealed.
Despite the whispers of Jewish history thread throughout this novel, People of the Book is more about the central character, Hanna, than it is about the Haggadah. Hanna Heath begins as a self-absorbed, shallow and sometimes dull protagonist, yet through a series of emotionally intense events woven between the history of the Haggadah, Hanna's character begins to shift and change. Forced to resolve a life-long conflict with her mother, to bounce back after a professional embarrassment, and face her fear of committment, Hanna is humbled and becomes a far more selfless individual.
Although I felt the story started a little slow, the moment the history of the Haggadah begins to be revealed the novel picks up pace, and it pays to be patient. I really liked how the author intertwines the different historical periods, bringing the story together and tying it off neatly at the end. An intriguing historical fiction with interesting characters and a modern twist.