Title = People of the Book: A Novel
Author = Geraldine Brooks
Description = 246 of 264 people found the following review helpful:

"Book burnings. Always the forerunners. Heralds of the stake, the ovens, the mass graves." , January 1, 2008

By

Luan Gaines "luansos"

In 1996, as rare book expert Dr. Hanna Heath examines the Sarajevo Haggadah, an illuminated Hebrew manuscript from 15th century Spain, she carefully removes a series of artifacts that, under laboratory examination, will offer insight into the remarkable journey of this unusual text. Having survived the Serb-Bosnian war, the haggadah yields precious clues that allow Hanna to reconstruct the attrition of time: the fragment of an insect wing, an apparent wine stain, a white hair, salt crystals. It requires all of Heath's considerable skills to trace the evidence through the centuries to the book's origin. One of the earliest illuminated Hebrew books to feature figurative art, this haggadah has been repressed by medieval Jews for religious concerns. Perhaps made in mid-4th century Spain, when Jews, Christian and Muslims peacefully coexisted, the manuscript begins its troubled journey in the Spanish Inquisition and expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492.

An Australian, Dr. Heath embraces the acerbic wit of her culture, clumsy at the communication skills so easily wielded by others; of a more contemplative nature, she is devoted to the historic value of the volumes she restores. Troubled by a chronic antagonism with her neurosurgeon mother, the young woman has built a life around her work in compensation. Meanwhile, Hannah's romantic curiosity is piqued by the enigmatic man assisting her at the museum in Sarajevo, widower Dr. Ozrem Karaman, his infant son profoundly brain-injured and wife killed in the war's crossfire. Her emotions in turmoil, Hanna's natural impulse is to soothe Ozrem's pain; unfortunately, she cannot forestall the inevitable or alter fate. Hannah turns to her work- for Hanna, books speak to objectifiable history, while feelings are impossible to confine.

The human component of the book's journey brings a particular poignancy to this novel, Hanna's obsession with ancient texts, Ozrem's tragic loss, the passage of the haggadah from hand to hand through years of religious strife, the thoughtful preservation of history's great treasures. The actions of years past speak to the present, a haunting reminder of man's inclination to destroy that which he does not understand.

Extraordinary people drive the story, from Sarajevo to Vienna to Boston, an intense investigation via scientific methods of chaotic times, religious and political unrest. Each era is revealed through the actions of characters circa 1940, 1894 and 1609, the journey of the haggadah and its protectors, the book hidden from those who would obliterate an invaluable artifact: "To be a human being matters more than to be a Jew, a Muslim, Catholic or Orthodox." Time's guardians reach through the years to pass the haggadah from one century to another. Hannah's task is to overcome personal defeats, trust her instincts and evaluate the evidence, so that a new generation may learn from the courage of the old. Luan Gaines/ 2007.