People of the Book, by Geraldine Brooks
Click for my Goodread's Review
3 out of 5 stars
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It occurs to me that I should include the description of these books since I don't do a review of the book. So here goes (from Goodreads):
In 1996, Hanna Heath, an Australian rare-book expert, is offered the job of a lifetime: analysis and conservation of the famed Sarajevo Haggadah, which has been rescued from Serb shelling during the Bosnian war. Priceless and beautiful, the book is one of the earliest Jewish volumes ever to be illuminated with images. When Hanna, a caustic loner with a passion for her work, discovers a series of tiny artifacts in its ancient binding - an insect wing fragment, wine stains, salt crystals, a white hair - she begins to unlock the book's mysteries. The reader is ushered into an exquisitely detailed and atmospheric past, tracing the book's journey from its salvation back to its creation.
I liked the premise of this novel - tracing back the stories that make up the history of an artifact. It made me think about other objects that have a history. We see them in a museum, and admire them, but don't really consider what their stories are.
I recall going to a display of Titanic artifacts when we were in Vegas a few years back. We already knew part of each item's history. They had been recovered from the ocean floor from the wreckage of the horrific sinking of the Titanic. In James Cameron's "Titanic", we were told the story of two items. One was the sketches of Rose done by Jack. The other was the necklace.
What great fodder for authors! Take an artifact, any artifact, and create a story about its past. The Indian headdress, replete in colourful feathers and beads, could have an amazing story of the coming of the white man and the subsequent destruction of a culture. A white christening gown could tell the story of the settlers crossing the prairies.
It piques my imagination. When my son was younger, and we were travelling, we created stories around names on sign posts. How could you not when you encounter a sign that reads, "Pickle jar Creek" or "Bent Pipe Creek"?
One of the things that irked me in "People of the Book" was that the reader was privy to the stories of the people who handled it and the main protagonist was not. In the end of the story, the protagonist did discover the name of the illustrator, but did not know the depth of their involvement. I would have liked it to be a shared journey. I know, it's a weird preference.
Even though I only gave the book 3 stars (part of that was the confusion I felt because of the timeline), I'm still thinking about it and looking up information on the Sarajevo Haggadah. Maybe I need to rethink the star rating and bump it up to a 4.