Monday, December 2, 2019

#BookReview: People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks



My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In March, before I got my library card made, I could only read in the library so I picked some very short books to finish in 1-2 hours. It started with The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett. This made me explore more books that are about book or reading and I came across "People of the book" multiple times but I never picked it.

A few months later, this book was mentioned and discussed again in the book "End of Life Book Club" and this time I decided that there were enough signs now for me to read it. Luckily I found the audiobook easily and over the last whole month, I finished the book.

People of the Book is the story of Haggadah (Jewish prayer book used during the festival of Passover) which celebrates the freedom of the Jews from slavery in Egypt. In particular, this book is about Sarajevo Haggadah which is an illustrated text of the Passover Haggadah. It is a fictionalized version of various "people" and places this manuscript traveled in its life till it finally resurfaces and is put up for display in a museum in Bosnia in 2002.

The book starts with the discovery and analysis of the manuscript for conservation. The different stuff captured during this take us down the history of the manuscript and how these things - a bloodstain, hair, wing of a butterfly, etc become a part of the book. The book alternates between the present as seen through the eyes of conservator Hanna Heath and the past as narrated by the person associated with the manuscript. With each passing month in the search of the truth in the present, we go more and more deeper into the story of the manuscript and the people responsible for creating and preserving the same.

When I began reading this, I had a doubt that my ignorance on the history of the place and the religion might be a hindrance in enjoying the book but it was actually a nudge for me to read about the manuscript and the history of the conflicts later in a more factual account. The fictional version piqued my interest and made me connect to the journey of the manuscript through centuries. Along with the book's story , the reader learns the art of creating such manuscripts , of preservation and the importance of these in telling the stories of older generations.

The book also has amazing characters who give this story a distinct turn and mood in different chapters. The structuring of the story works like a mystery book and keeps the reader engaged.

This is one of the best reads for me in this year and I loved reading about this book and the ways books have carried voices of hope and learning for all, across the years and religions and places.


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