Review: People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks

196. People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks
Publication: Penguin (Non-Classics) (December 30, 2008), Paperback, 372pp / ISBN 0143115006
Genre: (Historical) Fiction
Rating: Buy it
Read: October 9, 2010
Source: Bought
Summary from Amazon:

Inspired by a true story, People of the Book is a novel of sweeping historical grandeur and intimate emotional intensity by an acclaimed and beloved author. Called “a tour de force”by the San Francisco Chronicle, this ambitious, electrifying work traces the harrowing journey of the famed Sarajevo Haggadah, a beautifully illuminated Hebrew manuscript created in fifteenth-century S pain. When it falls to Hanna Heath, an Australian rare-book expert, to conserve this priceless work, the series of tiny artifacts she discovers in its ancient binding-an insect wing fragment, wine stains, salt crystals, a white hair-only begin to unlock its deep mysteries and unexpectedly plunges Hanna into the intrigues of fine art forgers and ultra-nationalist fanatics.


I’m weird about historical fiction. On the one hand, I don’t like it when people take liberties with THE FACTS and fiddle around with things just to make make their story better when it’s completely impossible in real life. On the other hand, I absolutely LOVE books that take a situation or object that’s mostly a mystery and then adds in a story to explain something. Like People of the Book does! I think because the first one is deliberately bad research and the second one normally has a LOT of research behind it, so while it’s probably not actual fact it has a lot of POSSIBLE facts behind it. Do you know what I mean? I hope so, because this is as good as I can explain my weird reading preferences.

The author

People of the Book is a really good book, and not just because it is obviously well-researched. It’s good because it’s a compelling story, and a heart-breaking one besides. It takes you across the world, following the trail of a book and the people who came into contact with it, and that’s always a lot of fun. It also takes you throughout time, with stops in pretty much every horrible major event in the past thousand years or so.


Because it does move around so much between times, places, and people, you might think that you don’t get to know the characters or locations very well. Wrong! For all that it switches around, Ms Brooks knows how to pack a lot of description and character development in a relatively short space. It’s intense, and there wasn’t one character I didn’t feel connected to in some way. I even felt connected to Hanna, and I didn’t really even like her that much. People of the Book is very moving emotionally, and if I didn’t hate crying so much and so refrain from doing it, I would have cried my eyes out at several points in the story.

For all that, it’s not an overall sad book. It’s definitely got the theme of hope and survival running throughout, and that’s always a nice thing to read. Very uplifting, you see. I enjoyed reading it immensely, and if you’re the sort of person who likes to have your heartstrings tugged, you might enjoy it, too.

A page of the haggadah

(Also if you’re interested in the making and history of books, because there’s a lot of that in there, too. I find it fascinating, myself, and I actually learned quite a lot about book preservation from reading People of the Book.)



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Other reviews: A Book A Week | She Is Too Fond of Books | Maggie Reads | | Shelf Love | American Bibliophile | Book Nut | Linus’ Blanket | At Home With Books (audiobook) | Dear Author | The Tome Traveller’s Weblog

5 thoughts on “Review: People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks”

  1. Yah yah yah! I so loved this book! I’m glad you did as well 🙂 I didn’t like other books by her that I’ve read nearly as much so far though, which is disappointing!

  2. The histories of the people that Geraldine Brooks created are fascinating … all those little clues in the haggadah and the bigger stories they represent.

    Like you, I learned so much about book conservation, and some of the story behind the real Sarajevo Haggadah. Really, a wonderful book (I wasn’t crazy about Hanna, either!)

    Thanks for linking to my review.

  3. I tried to listen to People of the Book on audio, and I gave up about a third of the way in. I think I would probably like it better in written form. Thanks for reminding me about its existence!

  4. I loved it on the audio, and because it was so emotionally intense at parts the audio suited me well (because it broke up the reading into many different sittings).

    I like that you included an image of the haggadah.

  5. Ooh, great to hear! My cousin recently suggested this book as the first of a long-distance book club he’s coordinating over Facebook. We’ll see how it goes. I read Year of Wonders by her which was great except for the ending (which is a widespread sentiment on that particular book, as far as I can tell.)

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