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.