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People of the Book, a Gripping Novel

Updated on September 18, 2009

Written by the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of "March", Geraldine Brooks, "People of the Book" is an elaborate and ambitious novel in which a rare Hebrew manuscript is forced to set about on a complex journey from Spain to the ruins of Sarajevo, from the Silver Age of Venice to the sunburned rock faces of northern Australia.

Inspired by the true story of a yet-to-be-unravelled, unbound leaf-book known as the Sarajevo Haggadah, People of the Book is a gripping adventure that transcends five centuries of history. From the time it was created in the Muslim-ruled, medieval Spain, this illuminated manuscript takes on several journeys fraught with danger through Venice, Vienna, and the Nazi areas.

In 1996, an Australian rare-book expert, named Hanna Heath, is offered the job of analysing and conserving this manuscript, which has been rescued once again from Serb shelling during the Bosnian war. Invaluable and beautiful, the book is one of the earliest Jewish volumes to be illuminated with figurative paintings. When Hanna, with an acid tongue and a great passion for her work, discovers a series of tiny artifacts in its ancient binding like an insect wing fragment, wine stains, salt crystals, a white hair, she decides with a dogged determination to unravel the book’s mysteries. When she seeks the counsel of specialists and experts to trace the journey of the book right from its creation, she is led into an adventurous and tumultuous past.

During the Second World War, a Muslim protects it from the Nazis in Bosnia. The book was used as a pawn in the rift between Vienna's cosmopolitanism and the city's anti-Semitism in 1894. In 1609, the book was rescued at Venice by a Catholic priest from Inquisition book burnings . In 1492, the person who wrote the manuscript and his entire family were destroyed in Tarragona in the midst of their enforced exile. But it was in Seville in 1480, the reason for the manuscript's awe-inspiring and fabulous illuminations is finally brought to light.

This book is made memorable by its adventurous story that excels the usual limitations of a historical fiction and by the unforgettable voices from the past and most significantly, the voice of Hanna, the Australian rare-book expert.


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