Take a look down the page at the map I copied from Amazon.com’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, Bosnia, and Sydney, Australia, 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 ★★★★★
Brooks tells her story through a series of interlaced scenes, with the distant past alternating with the present. It’s 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.
About the author
Geraldine Brooks was born in Sydney, Australia, in 1955, and graduated from Sydney University. She worked as a rookie reporter in Australia before moving to the United States. Here, she earned a master’s degree from the Columbia University School of Journalism. For years, she worked as a foreign correspondent for the Wall Street Journal, reporting from Africa, the Balkans, and the Middle East. Brooks has published a total of five novels, with a sixth on the way, and two works of nonfiction. Her husband of 25 years, Pulitzer-Prize-winning journalist Tony Horwitz, died in 2019.
For further reading
Five of the author’s novels 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. It’s also one of 30 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 Top 10 historical mysteries and thrillers reviewed here.
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