people-of-the-book

PEOPLE OF THE BOOK

Geraldine Brooks

People of the Book traces the harrowing journey of a rare illuminated six hundred year old Jewish prayer book told through the eyes of the people who crafted it and those who saved it from destruction, and the young Australian book conservator who unlocks its multi-ethnic secrets, by the winner of the 2006 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

In 1996, Hanna Heath, a young Australian book conservator, has been called to handle the job of a lifetime: analysis of the famed Sarajevo Haggadah, a priceless six hundred year old Jewish prayer book that has been salvaged from the destroyed Bosnian library by a courageous librarian.

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People of the Book traces the harrowing journey of a rare illuminated six hundred year old Jewish prayer book told through the eyes of the people who crafted it and those who saved it from destruction, and the young Australian book conservator who unlocks its multi-ethnic secrets, by the winner of the 2006 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

In 1996, Hanna Heath, a young Australian book conservator, has been called to handle the job of a lifetime: analysis of the famed Sarajevo Haggadah, a priceless six hundred year old Jewish prayer book that has been salvaged from the destroyed Bosnian library by a courageous librarian. In its pages, she discovers a series of artifacts – an insect wing, holes where clasps should have been, wine and salt stains, and a white hair. As Hanna investigates these items, the narrative travels back into the past, to Bosnia during World War II, Vienna in 1894, Venice in 1609, Barcelona in 1492, and Seville in 1480. In vivid and exquisite detail, we enter the worlds of the people of the book, the Muslim librarian in Sarajevo who saved it from the Nazis, the Venetian ecclesiastical censor who, in a fit of rage and personal anguish, also protected it from destruction, the sofer, or scribe, who wrote the text, and lastly the mysterious illuminator, whose striking illustrations grace its pages. Hanna’s investigation, which takes her all over the world, enables her to expose a nefarious international cover up, and brings her full circle to the possibility of a romantic relationship with the charismatic Bosnian librarian.

A novel whose great hero is a book, a work of art, that finds its protectors and survives world wars, ethnic cleansing and religious purges, People of the Book is a novel of sweeping historical grandeur, vividly realized characters and gripping mystery, and a remarkable achievement.

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Paperback

Price: $16.00

ISBN: 9780143115007

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About Geraldine Brooks

Geraldine Brooks is the author of four novels, the Pulitzer Prize–winning March as well as the international bestsellers Caleb’s CrossingPeople of the Book, and Year of Wonders. She has also written the acclaimed nonfiction works Nine Parts of Desire and Foreign Correspondence. Her most recent novel, Caleb’s Crossing, was the winner of the New England Book Award for Fiction and the Christianity Today Book Award, and was a finalist for the Langum Prize in American Historical Fiction. Born and raised in Australia, she lives on Martha’s Vineyard with her husband, the author Tony Horwitz.

Praise

Intelligent, thoughtful, gracefully written and orginal. . .Brooks tells a believable and engaging story.–The Washington Post

Intense, gripping. . . People of the Book…is a tour de force that delivers a reverberating lesson gleaned from history. . . . It’s a brilliant, innately suspenseful structure, and one that allows Brooks to show off her remarkable aptitude for assimilating research and conveying a wide range of settings. Also on full display is her keen sense of dramatic pacing.–San Francisco Chronicle 

[A] marvelously intertwined narrative, with one strand tied to the contemporary world and the other leading us back into European history, into wars and inquisitions and family tragedies, all of this making up avidly narrated, powerfully emotional quest.–The Dallas Morning News

Discussion Questions

1. When Hanna implores Ozren to solicit a second opinion on Alia’s condition, he becomes angry and tells her, “Not every story has a happy ending.” (p. 37) To what extent do you believe that their perspectives on tragedy and death are cultural? To what extent are they personal?

2. Isak tells Mordechai, “At least the pigeon does no harm. The hawk lives at the expense of other creatures that dwell in the desert.” (p.50) If you were Lola, would you have left the safety of your known life and gone to Palestine? Is it better to live as a pigeon or a hawk? Or is there an alternative?

3. When Father Vistorni asks Rabbi Judah Ayreh to warn the printer that the Church disapproves of one of their recently published texts, Ayreh tells him, “better you do it than to have us so intellectually enslaved that we do it for you.” (p. 156) Do you agree or disagree with his argument? With the way he handled Vistorni’s request?

4. What was it, ultimately, that made Father Vistorini approve the haggadah? Since Brooks leaves this part of the story unclear, how do you imagine it made its way from his rooms to Sarajevo?

5. Several of the novel’s female characters lived in the pre-feminist era and certainly fared poorly at the hands of men. Does the fact that she was pushing for gender equality—not to mention saving lives—justify Sarah Heath’s poor parenting skills? Would women’s rights be where they are today if it weren’t for women like her?

6. Have you ever been in a position where your professional judgment has been called into question? How did you react?

7. Was Hanna being fair to suspect only Amitai of the theft? Do you think charges should have been pressed against the culprits?

8. How did Hanna change after discovering the truth about her father? Would the person she was before her mother’s accident have realized that she loved Ozren? Or risked the dangers involved in returning the codex?

9. There is an amazing array of “people of the book”—both base and noble—whose lifetimes span some remarkable periods in human history. Who is your favorite and why?