From the Pulitzer Prizewinning author of March, the
journey of a rare illuminated manuscript through centuries of exile
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 bindingan insect wing fragment, wine stains, salt crystals, a white hairshe begins to unlock the books mysteries. The reader is ushered into an exquisitely detailed and atmospheric past, tracing the books 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-siècle Vienna, the book becomes a pawn in the struggle against the citys 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 Haggadahs extraordinary illuminations is finally disclosed. Hannas 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.
When the sun had set and darkness sheltered her from the eyes of the curious, Ruth Ben Shoushan walked into the sea, the nameless infant tight against her breast, until she stood waist deep. She unwrapped him, throwing the swaddling cloth over her head. His brown eyes blinked at her, and his small fists, free of constriction, punched at the air. "Sorry, my little one," she said gently, and then thrust him under the dark surface.
The water closed around him, touching every inch of his flesh. She had a firm grip around his upper arm. She let go. The water had to take him.
She looked down at the small, struggling form, her face determined, even as she sobbed. The swell rose and slapped against her. The tug of the receding wave was about to pull the infant away. Ruti reached out and grasped him firmly in her two hands. As she lifted him from the sea, water sluiced off his bare, shining skin in a shower of brightness. She held him up ...
The title encapsulates it all: it's about the people of the book, because if not for them, the Haggadah would not have survived. Brooks' larger message, one that's particularly apt today, could ultimately be about how diverse cultures influence and enrich one another.
(Reviewed by Lisa A. Goldstein).
Full Review (746 words).
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