People of the Book, by Geraldine Brooks

Of course, a book is more than the sum of its materials. It is an artefact of the human mind and hand. The gold beaters, the stone grinders, the scribes, the binders, those are the people I feel most comfortable with. Sometimes, in the quiet, these people speak to me. They let me see what their intentions were, and it helps me do my work. I worried that the kustos, with his well-meaning scrutiny, or the cops, with the low chatter of their radios, would keep my friendly ghosts at bay. And I needed their help. There were so many questions.

Hanna Heath is used to working in the seclusion of her laboratory where she studies and preserves historical manuscripts and books. When she is summoned to Sarajevo to work on a recently recovered manuscript, she is swept up in the book’s mysterious past.

The Sarajevo Haggadah is a Jewish prayer book which has survived for centuries against remarkable odds. Hanna must work to preserve it, but at the same time wants to establish how the book has survived. What has kept it hidden and safe in the face of war and persecution of its owners?

The People of the Book is a beautifully developed tale of one book and its passage through time. As Hanna works to uncover its past, the reader is privileged to see chapters in the book’s past, with these instalments interspersed between Hanna’s own travels. These glimpses of the past tie in with some of the damage and relics found by Hanna when she examines the book, giving the reader an insight which Hanna does not have, in spite of her educated guesses. At the same time, Hanna must confront her own past, her troubled relationship with the book’s current custodian and her doubts about her abilities.

This a beautifully woven book, with elements of mystery, history and personal relationships combining to keep the reader absorbed and keen to find answers.

A masterpiece.

People of the Book

People of the Book, by Geraldine Brooks
Fourth Estate (an imprint of Harper Collins), 2008

This book can be purchased online from Fishpond. Buying through this link supports Aussiereveiws.