The book in the title is a centuries old Jewish prayer book that has survived the Inquisition, Nazi occupation and a ton of conflict in between. Now it’s threatened again. Smart and creative, People of the Book is a very satisfying read.
Hannah Heath, a scholar and book restorer, receives the assignment of a lifetime when she is asked to restore the Sarajevo Haggadah for an upcoming special event. It’s 1996 and embattled Sarajevo is trying to shake off the grim aftermath of war. Restoring the haggadah, a beloved local artifact, will be a symbolic victory.
A haggadah is a Jewish prayer book, used during Passover, that includes a narrative of the Exodus. This particular Haggadah, created during Medieval times, is unusual because of its vibrant illustrations. Illustrations weren’t common in Jewish prayer books from that time.
According to Wikipedia, “people of the book” is a term Muslims use to refer to Jews and Christians. That certainly applies here, as religion is an underlying theme of the novel. But it also applies to the main point of the book, which is to tell the stories of some of the people who left their “fingerprints” on the prayer book, and in doing so tell some of the history of the haggadah. During the restoration process, Hannah uncovers these “fingerprints” and the author toggles back in time to tell the back story. For example, a butterfly wing found between the pages becomes the story of how the haggadah was hidden in the Alps during Nazi occupation. A wine stain becomes the story of how the book survived the Inquisition in Italy. A common theme of all these stories is religious intolerance, especially the perpetual persecution of Jews.
The use of so many back stories means the author had to create 5 or 6 little short stories set in different centuries and different countries with characters from three different religions. All of them are really well done and obviously well researched. It’s an interesting device to use and Ms. Brooks nailed it. The parts of the story during modern times were a little less interesting, but there was some intrigue and family strife to keep things lively.
Overall, I definitely recommend it. Thanks, Dianne, for the recommendation!
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