Thursday, 31 July 2008

Geraldine Brooks - "The People of the Book"

Publ: 2008; ISBN 978-0-00-717743-1
Rating - ****

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 binding - an insect wing fragment, wine stains, salt crystals, a white hair - she begins to unlock the book's mysteries. The reader is ushered into an exquisitely detailed and atmospheric past, selectively tracing the book's journey from its salvation back to its creation.

Inspired by a true story and brilliantly researched, 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.

I commented in relation to the last book I read - Felix Holt - that "I had failed to realise Christians were forbidden by Canon Law from money-lending and that is how the Jewish predominance in that field first arose." I discovered in reading this book that in Venice in 1516 (and no doubt many other places and times) Jews were only allowed to pursue three trades - import / export from the Levant; buying and selling used goods; and pawnbroking. I do love novels with lots of new facts in them. It makes me feel less quilty as I read so much fiction.

GERALDINE BROOKS was born in 1955 and raised in Australia. After moving to the USA she worked for eleven years on the Wall Street Journal, covering stories from some of the world's most troubled areas, including Bosnia, Somalia and the Middle East. Her first novel, Year of Wonders, was set during the English plague year of 1666, and became an international bestseller. She lives with her husband and son in rural Virginia and is currently a fellow at Harvard University.

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