I was really looking forward to Geraldine Brooks’ People of the Book, a novel about the Sarajevo Haggadah. I was taken by the fact that Brooks was taken by the Haggadah, a centuries-old richly illustrated book of the Jewish exodus from
The Haggadah has a fascinating history that Brooks tries to bring to life. She first heard of the Haggadah in the 1990s when she was covering the war in
Years later, the book resurfaced. It had been saved by a Muslim and squirreled away in a safe place, far from the mortar shells and sniper fire that made the streets of
Brooks’ book is really an impassioned plea for people of varying religions to see the humanity in one another rather than the differences. The main character in the book is an Australian rare book expert who is called to
The book does a nice job of showing the history of the Jews and their continued battles with those who would destroy them. Unfortunately, the narrative is uneven and at times I found myself feeling manipulated. I couldn’t believe that this writing came from the same author of The Year of Wonders, one of my favorite books, or the writer of March, which won the Pulitzer Prize for Literature. While the sections dealing with Hanna, the Australian book restorer, rang true, some of the other parts felt forced. I had a particularly hard time with the secret vices of a rabbi who lived in
I am not the only one who was disappointed by parts of the book. Jerome Weeks, the former book editor of the Dallas Morning News, said “People of the Book is not much more emotionally complex than Nancy Drew and the Mysterious Manuscript.”
Perhaps Brooks thought it would be difficult to lure readers to a novel about a religious text, so she chose the most accessible way she could think of to draw in readers. There’s lots of drama and conflict in the book, but very little true tension. I know her publisher was comparing it to Dan Brown’s DaVinci code, since the Haggadah is a codex that is decoded over the course of the novel. I don’t think it is sufficiently thrilling, as in thriller genre, to appeal to that kind of reader.