Geraldine Brooks’ People of the Book is a fictional novel based on fact. The Book is an ancient, rare Jewish manuscript called a haggadah – a prayer book with beautifully illuminated painted miniatures depicting the exodus of the Jews from slavery in Egypt.
Each year the Jews commemorate this event with a seder feast when the family would pass the haggadah around the dining table as they ate, sang and prayed.
The people of the book are Jews, Muslims and Christians – all feature in the history of the haggadah through the Spanish Inquisition, pogrom, dispersion, two World wars and the recent ethnic war in Sarajevo.
There is Hanna Heath (Sharansky), the Australian book conservator extraordinaire, Ozren Karamen, the chief librarian of the Sarajevo museum library, the Kamals, Lola a young partisan, Herr Mittl the Viennese Christian book binder, Werner Heinrich, Amitai Yokov, Zahara – a Moorish woman, Amalie Sutter, an entomologist, Vistorini, a Catholic priest, Ruben Ayeh, a rabbi, an emir and an emira, a forensic scientist, representatives from the United Nations, Australian Minister of Foreign Affairs, etc. etc. Some characters are based on real people others are entirely fictional.
The dedication “For the Librarians” is for the Sarajevo librarians who put their lives on the line to save this rare book throughout its history. Muslims saving a Jewish book? Yet it is a book that brings people of all cultures and religions together – a treasure to share and conserve.
The book is well researched – a busy book which leaps from Sydney to Sarajevo to Spain to Venice to Vienna to London, to Boston, outback Australia and back to Sarajevo. It jumps from the present day back and forth through the centuries and back to the present, which makes it a bit disjointed and sometimes difficult for the reader to keep the continuity of the novel. It has a central theme, but many, many stories which keep you glued to the book – a great read.