The People of the Book
The year is 1996 in Sarajevo, Bosnia. Australian rare-book expert Hanna Heath has been offered her dream job to analyze and conserve a priceless and beautifully illustrated Hebrew manuscript called the Sarajevo Haggadah. The origins of the book date back to 1480 Seville, before Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain began their “Inquisition.
Hanna discovers a series of tiny artifacts in the volume's ancient binding that reveal its historically significant origins - an insect wing, wine stains, salt crystals and a white hair. The author, Geraldine Brooks takes us back in time in reverse order, from Sarajevo back to Vienna, back to Venice, back to Tarragona and Seville in Spain, telling a story of each owner or creator of the book, and relating how each artifact landed in the binding. Each trip relates a piece of the codex’s history as well as the history of the persecution of the Jews in Europe over the centuries. The book is protected from each war by the main characters from each story - the people that made it and used it - bearing witness to the atrocities the Jews faced from the Inquisition, the Nazis and extremist Serbian nationalists. Twice, the codex is actually protected and smuggled to safety by Muslims.
In between each story is the continuing saga of Hanna Heath and the people that help her unlock the mysteries of each artifact found in the manuscript, and its history. The reader learns much about Hanna’s past and how she came to be a world-renowned expert in preserving antique books. She even gets caught up in her own episode of intrigue and deceit involving the manuscript, making for a crazy twist in the plot at the end of the book.
The author, Geraldine Brooks, is a master of historical fiction, making the details of the era and its people very real to the reader. Brooks won a Pulitzer Prize in 2006 for her novel March. She was a war correspondent for the Wall Street Journal, stationed in Bosnia in 1996 so she experienced the devastation of the Bosnian war first hand. That is when she learned about the Sarajevo Haggadah, a very real ancient Hebrew manuscript that was rescued and brought to safety from the historical library in Sarajevo by a very brave Muslim librarian. To see a page of one of the beautiful illuminations in the book, go to Geraldine Brooks’ website at www.geraldinebrooks.com and click on the "readers guide" link for People of the Book.