People of the Book
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I’m Kim Alexander and this is Fiction Nation. The book is People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks.
I should mention she wrote one of my favorite books from a few years ago, Year of Wonders. Seeing as how I am obsessed with stories about the Black Plague, this was right up my (morbid but unashamed) alley. Set in a tiny English town in the grip of the plague in 1666, it reads like a dispatch from the front lines as the townspeople struggle against this invisible and mysterious enemy. It was based on a true story in which the villagers quarantined themselves inside the town instead of fleeing for the hills, knowing they would probably not survive but hoping to prevent the spread of disease. Can you imagine?
There was an echo of the bravery and sacrifice of those villagers in Geraldine’s latest novel, People of the Book. The story of the Sarajevo Haggadah, a priceless medieval Jewish manuscript, is truly stranger than fiction. Ms. Brooks wrote and researched the real history of this small but exquisite sacred book for a magazine article, and the novel grew out of that remarkable story. The plot, woven from the historic record and the author’s imagination, bounces from Venice in 1609 to the Australian Outback, to war-ravaged Sarajevo. The clever construct of the narrative takes us back in time to peek at the lives of the artists who created it, Inquisition priests who sought to destroy it, and the many hands this book passed through on its way to reach Hanna Heath, the woman charged with its restoration. Hanna is an action hero masquerading as a bookworm, and her clear, specifically Australian voice came ringing though. She’s passionate about her work as a book antiquarian, she fights with her mother (so would I, her mother is a head spinner) and makes the bad and good choices that go into the creation of a truly memorable heroine. (If Hollywood or better yet, HBO doesn’t snatch this up and cast Naomi Watts there is no justice.)
You can read the story Geraldine wrote for the New Yorker here:
And even though the text is in German, I encourage you to look at the pages of the Sarajevo Haggadah here: