Saturday, May 12, 2012

Review: People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks

Title: People of the Book
Author: Geraldine Brooks
Format: Audiobook
Publisher: Penguin Audio
Publish Date: January 1, 2008
Source: Library

Why You're Reading This Book:
  • You're a historical fiction fan.
  • You like a little bit of mystery.
What's the Story?:

From "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.

In Bosnia during World War II, a Muslim risks his life to protect it from the Nazis. In the hedonistic salons of fin-de-si├Ęcle Vienna, the book becomes a pawn in the struggle against the city's rising anti-Semitism. In inquisition-era Venice, a Catholic priest saves it from burning. In Barcelona in 1492, the scribe who wrote the text sees his family destroyed by the agonies of enforced exile. And in Seville in 1480, the reason for the Haggadah's extraordinary illuminations is finally disclosed. Hanna's investigation unexpectedly plunges her into the intrigues of fine art forgers and ultra-nationalist fanatics. Her experiences will test her belief in herself and the man she has come to love.

Inspired by a true story, People of the Book is at once a novel of sweeping historical grandeur and intimate emotional intensity, an ambitious, electrifying work by an acclaimed and beloved author."

My Two Cents: 

Full disclosure: I listened to this book. I think this definitely colored some of my review.

People of the Book tells the story of the various people who have all had some part in the life of one particular Jewish religious text called the Haggadah. The Haggadah tells about the order of the Passover Seder. The story opens on the particular Haggadah in question as Hanna, an Australian book restorer, comes to look at and repair the book in Sarajevo during the mid-1990s. The story stretches from the Spanish Inquisition to the early 2000s. It is truly fascinating historical fiction, especially for those like me that love old books and the history of the various stories that we tell ourselves and each other as humans.

I think this is a great book that shows how important books have been to we humans for many, many years. They tell our history. They tell our future generations how we lived and who we were. They hold clues to what things were really like for us when we were living. The fascinating thing about book restoring that we see in the book is that it allows future book restorers to understand the methods used in order to date when various restorations were completed.

This book also has a pretty good mystery that doesn't come out until later in the book. I almost wish that it had come sooner because I spent a lot of time wondering why all of these different characters were being introduced. It was hard to see the connections until the very end.

This part did not affect my review of the book. Okay, I'm new to listening to audiobooks. This marks the second audiobook that I've listened to all the way through. I had a couple criticisms. First, it was very hard at first to understand the reader's accent. She has a fairly strong Aussie accent and does a lot of accents for some of the other characters. Additionally she uses the same voice for two characters in the book, the main character and another very important character, which made it really difficult to not get confused about who was speaking. I did finally hit a stride with the narrator and it wasn't bad.

Another downfall of the audiobook version of this book is that there were so many characters and so many different time periods. I definitely had to keep looking at the titles of the various chapters to make sure I knew exactly who was supposed to be speaking and when they were from (the chapter titles included the name of the characters and also their time period). It wasn't a killer but it definitely was difficult to keep in my mind who all the major players were.

Bottom line: this is an enjoyable book but may be better read than listened to.



  1. This one's been on my TBR for awhile...based on your review, I don't think I'll be going audio for People of the Book :)

    I'm new to audio too...and sometimes it just doesn't work for me.

    1. I think you have to have one consistent narrating character for it to work well. I liked this book but the audio was sort of overwhelming.


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