The strange story of the Sarajevo Hagadah

Sarajevo Hagadah

Take a look down the page at the map I copied from’s review of this outstanding historical novel, and you’ll get a sense of the extraordinary scope of the story. Pulitzer-Prize-winning author Geraldine Brooks will carry you on the eloquence of her prose through the five-century journey throughout Southern Europe of the fabled Sarajevo Hagadah. This ceremonial book, available in innumerable versions, is put to work every year in Jewish Seders throughout the world to celebrate Passover.

The five-century journey of the Sarajevo Hagadah

In Brooks’ hands, however, this remarkable example of the bookmaker’s art serves as a time machine, taking us from Seville in the late 15th Century, to Sarajevo and Sydney in the early 21st. More to the point, the Sarajevo Haggadah emerges in the pages of People of the Book as a brilliant symbol of reconciliation among Jews, Muslims, and Christians.

People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks (2008) 396 pages @@@@@ (5 out of 5)

Though told through a series of interlaced scenes, with the distant past alternating with the present, the story is a tale of courage and redemption and of the triumph of the human spirit to create and preserve beauty in the face of brutality and injustice. And it’s solidly grounded in the true story of the Sarajevo Hagadah.

Brooks’ protagonist is a world-class specialist in preserving and restoring rare books who lives in the author’s native Australia. Her interactions with the other characters who people this beautifully written novel reveal both the extensive research Brooks conducted on the subject matter and the depth of her humanity.

I won’t say more about the story. Read it for yourself. You’ll be delighted you did.

For further reading

All of the author’s books can be found at The outstanding historical fiction of Geraldine Brooks. And you’ll find this book on my list of The decade’s top 10 historical novels, mysteries & thrillers, and science fiction

This is one of 11 great books about Jewish topics.

If you enjoy reading history in fictional form, check out 20 most enlightening historical novels (plus dozens of runners-up). And if you’re looking for exciting historical novels, check out Top 10 historical mysteries and thrillers reviewed here (plus 100 others).

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