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  • Writer's pictureTrish Perry

A Strong Historical Story: People of the Book

Updated: Apr 13

Cover People of the Book

While I enjoyed and fully appreciated this novel, People of the Book, by Geraldine Brooks, I caution that it won’t be for everyone. I had both the audio and the print versions, and the print version was a must, IMO. The total time span is from 1480 Seville to 2002 Jerusalem. We make various important stops in-between, each peopled substantially by characters of multiple nationalities and faiths, with fitting but eventually hard-to-differentiate names. And the sequence of storytelling is not chronological. The ability to flip back and forth in a print book enables the reader to stay on track as we bounce from 1996 Sarajevo to 1609 Venice to 1996 Vienna to 1492 Tarragona and so on.

That said, People of the Book is well researched, and the beautifully written novel held my interest throughout. As soon as the story’s conceit is clear, its puzzle-solving aspect becomes a separate facet of intrigue. Protagonist Hanna Heath, a cynical rare-book expert, takes us on our journey by unearthing ancient, tangible clues during her analysis and restoration of the Sarajevo Haggadah, an illustrated retelling of the Biblical Exodus. With each item Hannah finds, we learn how, where, and when the parts of this book came into being, as well as the people who played a role in creating the historical treasure, whether they knew it or not.

Once I reached the book’s end, I felt the need to go back and put events in chronological order, which took away any confusion I had while reading everything out of sequence, as presented. I don’t know if I would have preferred the book written in that order, but I did like it more after doing that exercise.

People of the Book is populated by the brave, the weak, the sinful, the cruel, the proud, the devout, and the selfish. I can’t say I agree with every viewpoint Brooks exposes in her writing, but I can say I always learn a lot from her hard work and her lovely craft.

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