Archive | 10:33 AM

Book Review: People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks (3/5)

14 Jan

This book was good. I enjoyed it. Was I let down by the last paragraph? Yes. Did that affect my rating? Likely. Maybe I’ll adjust my rating up to Four Stars at some point, but I’m going to stick with Three Stars for now. I’d still recommend it, though!

Cover image via Goodreads

People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks

Other books by Brooks reviewed on this blog:

Year of Wonder

Summary from Goodreads:

In 1996, Hanna Heath, an Australian rare-book expert, is offered the job of a lifetime: analysis and conservation of the famed Sarajevo Haggadah, which has been rescued from Serb shelling during the Bosnian war. Priceless and beautiful, the book is one of the earliest Jewish volumes ever to be illuminated with images. When Hanna, a caustic loner with a passion for her work, discovers a series of tiny artifacts in its ancient binding—an insect wing fragment, wine stains, salt crystals, a white hair—she begins to unlock the book’s mysteries. The reader is ushered into an exquisitely detailed and atmospheric past, tracing the book’s journey from its salvation back to its creation.

In Bosnia during World War II, a Muslim risks his life to protect it from the Nazis. In the hedonistic salons of fin-de-siècle Vienna, the book becomes a pawn in the struggle against the city’s rising anti-Semitism. In inquisition-era Venice, a Catholic priest saves it from burning. In Barcelona in 1492, the scribe who wrote the text sees his family destroyed by the agonies of enforced exile. And in Seville in 1480, the reason for the Haggadah’s extraordinary illuminations is finally disclosed. Hanna’s investigation unexpectedly plunges her into the intrigues of fine art forgers and ultra-nationalist fanatics. Her experiences will test her belief in herself and the man she has come to love.

I enjoyed how Brooks set up this novel. Hanna finds all of these remnants of previous times in the book, simple things, and then Brooks weaves the tale of the book and the people who have touched it and saved it. The book becomes the main character along with Hanna. It feels like the two are having a very one-sided conversation throughout. I felt Ozren was a side character and I was surprised when he came up again at the end. Honestly, his character frustrated me beyond reason and I hated him. I was mad Hanna didn’t share my sentiments. I felt like he was against the book and it’s best interests which, in my head, made him and Hanna rivals. I thought Hanna would see it the same way.

If we take out the last page, where Hanna trusts Ozren again, I thought the characters were well-built. Hanna is an independent woman, the product of her mother’s raising. She’s smart and her journey through the book struck me as sad but realistic. Ozren is a product of his time and place. He’s suffered at the hands of his homeland and he’s angry. I got it, really I did. But I didn’t see a reason for him to regret his actions and repent. Guilt doesn’t seem to be a strong enough reason for me.

Hanna was an easy favorite character (until the very end). I cheered her on during fights with her mother. I was excited by her professional accomplishments. I loved following her sleuthing as she found out the secrets of the people who had owned the book before her. This was a great mystery novel in that way. There were some owners I wanted to hear more about and I wished at times that I’d been able to connect the owners better (maybe I missed things) but I understood moving on from them as the book traveled. It was fun to think about an object being touched by so many people. It makes me angry to think about today’s throw-away culture. Few things we have would last that long.

Hanna was very different from me and her self-confidence was something I don’t see in myself that I liked in Hanna. She was so sure of her analysis on the book, so confident that it was false. Even her friend and mentor contradicting her couldn’t sway her. I admired that. I’m not sure I would have been that strong if told I’d made a mistake in my work. Granted, I’m a bit younger and I have no PhD to back up my opinion, but I still felt her confidence was admirable.

Image via the Jewish Women’s Archive

I liked the flashback stories that explained the damages to the book and how it got to where it was. There isn’t a particular one I liked most, but I thought they were all well-constructed. Brooks built characters that had distinct characteristics so it didn’t feel like re-use characters appeared story to story. I like how she gave a variety of people with different religions, life situations, and reasons for having the book. If I had to pick a favorite, it would be the rabbi with the gambling problem. I loved how she described his addiction.

I’ll finally talk about the end of the book so skip this if you don’t want it spoiled. I never felt Ozren was a very admirable character and I never felt that Hanna had strong lasting feelings toward him. Yes, he saved the book. But we’re introduced to a number of characters who do the same. He suffered a great loss and I pitied him, but I didn’t like him. I felt the things Hanna did for him were out of friendship. When he wouldn’t support her opinion on the Haggadah and she left, I felt any affection between them was severed. It seemed odd to use their relationship to bring back the real Haggadah because I felt there was nothing there. I could understand the scheme to replace the book. But what really got me was them being intimate after they were done. I didn’t think Ozren had done anything to win Hanna’s affection back and he had not been admirable since his deception had caused this problem in the first place. I felt Hanna was built up to be a strong woman who wouldn’t fall into bed with a man who smiled at her and my opinion of Hanna sank with the ending of the book. I wish that small part had been left out because it undermined her character.

My audiobook was narrated by Edwina Wren. I adored her narration. She gave the base accent for Hanna, Australian, but supplied accents and dialects to the multitude of European characters in the book in a very engaging way. I enjoyed hearing Ozren and the British forensic scientist and the American relatives and all the other speakers who made up the world of the book. Wren was able to bring them all to life wonderfully.

The life a book can take, and the people it can impact, is incredible. I was really blown away by the path the book took to end up in Sarajevo. I was touched by the care people took to make and preserve the book. Our history is told through ‘things.’ In this case, the people who preserved the book were mostly forgotten by history, but the book itself told their story. People don’t live forever, but things can last quite a long time. Their value and what we gain from them, are incredible and worth preserving. In some of these cases, they were worth dying for.

Writer’s Takeaway: It can be hard to have so many vignettes in a book and give it an arc but Brooks found an amazing way to do that. The book bound all the characters across time and location and unified many distinct stories. I loved how they came together to tell the story of a book. It’s a very unique idea and I think Brooks did it well. It was a story about a character who never changed or spoke but who you still cared for greatly. I thought that was innovative and creative.

An enjoyable book, though the very end was disappointing. Three out of Five Stars.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Related Posts:
People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks | Only a Novel
Review: People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks | Tales from Crazy House
People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks | City of Canterbury Library
Geraldine Brooks – People of the Book | Fyrefly’s Book Blog
Geraldine Brooks – People of the Book | Lady Fancifull