People of the Book (Review)

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People of the Book
Geraldine Brooks, 2007
384 pp.

Book Review by Molly Lundquist
March 2008

I was with Salman Rushdie the other night (along with few others...maybe 2,000 or so) as he spoke about the power of the novel to change the world.

Novels, he said, enable us to see the world in a new way and offer the possibility of binding disparate cultures together in a common humanity. It was an inspiring evening for any literature lover. I'd been thinking about recommending Brooks's new novel—now I must!

(Dear reader, do see LitCourse 1—Why Literature Matters—even if it's just for the beginning of the slide lecture!) 

Brooks' book traces the history of a medieval manuscript as it passes from hand to hand for 500 years. Muslims, Christians, and Jews all risk their lives to save this beautiful book.

Hanna Heath, a young (and of course beautiful...duh) Australian and an expert in conserving old manuscripts, attempts to unravel the mystery behind the book's survival. She travels to Sarajevo (and on page 13 meets a handsome young man...so guess where this is going) to repair the book. Thus begins the saga—of both Hanna and the manuscript.

As Hanna uncovers one clue at a time, her first person narration is interspersed with flashbacks into history. At times the switching was irritating, but I found the mini histories absorbing, self-contained short stories in themselves—although often tinged with purple prose (melodrama). Brooks may not be the most elegant writer, but she's a great story teller.

And there's lots going on here—a literary mystery, an exploration of how history gets told, the enduring quality of art and artists, and most of all, the vision of religious tolerance in a fractured world.

I ended up liking the book (especially in light of Rushdie's talk)—and recommend it. 

See our Reading Guide for People of the Book.

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