People of the Book

Title: People of the Book

Author: Geraldine Brooks

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 artefacts 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 Venice during the time of the inquisition, 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, and her experiences will test her belief in herself and the man she has come to love.

Inspired by a true story “People of the Book” is a novel of sweeping historical grandeur and intimate emotional intensity – an ambitious, electrifying work by the acclaimed author of “Year of Wonders” and “March”.

Personal Review: I listened to this book on audiobook format. The book was read by Edwina Wren. What I liked about this is that it was read with an Australian accent and considering that this books main character is Australian, it is nice to have the voice meet the character.

Now, for this review, I have decided to try to review as I go along so that the review is better done and more inclusive… so my thoughts will be in the moment, and not a week or so after finishing the book. This may or may not be the way I do my reviews in the future. Either way, spoilers ahead!

Hanna: (Sarajevo, Spring 1996) Honestly, thus far has many of the reasons why I tend to stay away from “Adult” novels and tend to stick to “Young Adult” books. The casual treatment to sex, where characters fall into bed together after have exchanged about 10 sentences is not something I appreciate, and honestly, that is what happened. Main character, Hanna Heath, seems to fall into bed with the man in Bosnia, Ozren, after she starts eating and he laughs at her for eating like a big and then she licks his fingers… I was like, is this seriously for real. To me, at least, sex means something. I don’t appreciate casual sex, and reading about it in books tends to annoy me, especially when we haven’t even gotten past four chapters. In addition, Hanna’s relationship with her mother is annoying. It is something that I encounter frequently in Young Adult books, but it is something that I write off because they are teenagers, and hence are allowed to be immature… but this is a grown women. I wanted to be like, “Seriously, grow up.” I mean, purposely trying to avoid your parent… scheduling things in such a way so that you don’t have to meet up, it is just petty. And then there is Hanna’s blatant disregard for the wishes of the Ozren concerning his sons medical information. He specifically said that he didn’t want to have his son’s medical information looked at by anyone else, and yet she manages to somehow get a hold of it, in means that seem decided unethical, and takes them to be looked at to satisfy her own selfish desires, no regard to his wishes at all. Personally, I believe that if there is help available, then it should be given to a person suffering, but you should never go against the wishes of another person to do something like this. It really made me angry!

An Insect’s Wing: (Sarajevo, 1940) In this section of the book, we meet the character Lola. She is a Jewish girl living in Sarajevo during the time of the Nazi invasion. She manages to escape and becomes a partisan for a period, though she is forced to abandon her family to their death in order to escape. Along the way, she makes several friends, though she eventually loses them all, whether through death or through moving on. In the end, a Muslim family in Sarajevo ends up hiding her. It is only in the last few pages that we come across the reason why Lola’s story is involved in a tale about a Rare Book. The Muslim family she stays with are the ones who take the book out of the Museum and hide it so that the Nazi’s can’t get it. This is interesting for a number of reasons. The first is that the book is a Jewish book and so to see a Muslim man rescue it was really cool. The second is the bravery involved in rescuing this one book from the hands of the Nazis. I have read a lot of World War Two stories, but I have never seen one where a Muslim family protects a Jew and so to see that portrayed in this story was really amazing. I hope that we encounter Lola and find out more of her story later in the book and that we haven’t had the end of our time with her.

Hanna: (Vienna, Spring 1996) Well, this was an extremely short section. I am still not quiet warming up to Hanna. I hate pushy females and she is a pushy female. However, I am intrigued by the tale of this book. I am glad that we found out a little bit more about the Muslim man from the previous section. Turns out that he survived the war and then went to Prison for six years for being a “Nazi Colaborator” even though the charges eventually got dropped. I am also intrigued about the story of Werner and what his part in the War was.I like the back and forth of times in the book so you see more first hand what was happening at the time, rather then a retelling by some random character, however, it makes it hard to keep names and stories straight.

Feathers and a Rose: (Vienna, 1894) The hypocracy of this section annoyed me so much. Another plus to YA books. The characters we meet in this short section are all seeded in sex and affairs. And when the Jewish Doctor discovers that his wife is having an affair, he blows up, despite the fact that he has constant affairs. That is annoying. I understand that it was the way of the time, but seriously, is it so hard to stay in your pants? Affairs annoy me… Everyone in this section is extremely selfish. Stealing and selling things to get more money, affairs, duels. It was all too much and I didn’t sympathize with any of the characters.

Hanna: (Vienna, Spring 1996) Good Lord, but Hanna bugs the heck out of me. I want to scream at her, “GET OVER YOURSELF!” After having met her mother, though, I can understand how she came to be so self-absorbed. It is frustrating and annoying, but so is her mother. For all of their age and maturity, they are both immature. I am enjoying the tale of the book, though. I like seeing where it has come from throughout its time.

Wine Stains: (Venice, 1609) Is it impossible to have a good character in history? Must every one be amoral? My complaint in this section… the Rabbi with the gambling addiction. He receives money that is to be used to help the poor in his congregation, and he gambles it all away. He is suppose to be a righteous man and an example, but instead, he just is proud and thinks that God’s power is with him. Doesn’t he know that there are Scriptures that tell you not to gamble?  However, I found that the story of the book  interesting. The inquisition is an interesting point in history and seeing how the book survived that time.

Hanna: (Boston, Spring 1996) Ah, but this section was so much better. In it, Hanna’s mother gets in an accident and comes to share the story of Hanna’s father with her. They actually have a decent conversation and act like grown ups. Hanna was again childish in the end, but at least she was likeable for the majority of these 40 pages. In addition, when a married male friend of hers makes a move to have sex with her, Hanna tells him no and tells him off. That was not expected considering everything else we have seen about Hanna.

Saltwater: (Tarragona, 1492) This section was a lot better than the previous sections. Don’t get me wrong, there were still things that annoyed me, but I am choosing to over look them for the sake of having one pleasant section . The characters were very pitiable, even Rosa, the wife of the converted Christian who wished who unborn child would die, because there was something so desperate and sad about her situation. It makes me sad to know that we will not encounter these characters again. I felt bad for Reuben who had really converted and come to love his new faith, but the torturers of the Inquisition still wore him down to confess to something that wasn’t all together wrong.I was sad for the mother who had to act as though her son was dead because he had left their faith. It reminded me of Fiddler on the Roof and the one daughter. The things that the Jews have encountered throughout history is just so inhumane that it is astounding.

Hanna: (London, Spring 1996) Hanna is the most annoying frustrating female character I have ever come across. She is such the drama queen. Okay, that might be overly dramatic… but she annoys the heck out of me. If I wasn’t so close to the end, I would have written this book off a long time ago. After the previous section, I have absolutely no pity for her and her “problems”. And then she finds out that Ozren’s son has died and she is angry that the man on the other end of the phone was short with her. Then she just “has to” go Sarajevo, because she can’t leave the the man alone with his grief and it all has to be about Hanna (can you hear the disdain dripping from my comments). Anyway, so no happy thoughts in this section.

A White Hair: (Seville, 1480) Ah, but I loved this section. It is about the slave girl who created the beautiful pictures in the book. It was so sad to see how she was used by various people and all she desired was her freedom, and yet she showed such compassion. She loved the captive forced bride of the king, who was raped by her husband. She loved the deaf mute son of the Jewish Doctor who she was gifted to. All these people she should resent, she tried to help. This was one of my favorite sections in this book and it really touched my heart!

Hanna: (Sarajevo, Spring 1996) Can I repeat that Hanna is the biggest drama queen? I could go on and on in this section about why she is one of my least favorite characters out of all the books I have read, but it would be pretty repetitive from the previous sections so I will just say that none of my opinions about her have changed…

Lola: (Jerusalem, 2002) Oh, I am so glad we got to see Lola again. I had to go back and check my notes and see that it really is the same character. However, why does everyone in this book have to be so loose? Why does every single section have to involve sex? I feel like it really detracts from the story. Call me a prude, but I felt like all the mentions of “lovers” and “mistresses” and “ask me to do things to pleasure him that I was not comfortable with” didn’t add to the story and was completely unnecessary.However, it is nice to know what happened to Lola and to see the book in her hands again!

Hanna: (Arnhem Land, Gunumeleng, 2002) The end of the relationship between Hanna and her mother is so annoying and stupid. Hanna is such an immature brat. I have seen teenagers with more maturity than her. Yeah, her mother is not even close to the best mother in the world, but the way she acts is so pathetic. And then that quits her job because she is filled with self-doubt. Hanna is so annoying, I can’t even bare it. I mean, it has me wanting to quit the book with only 30 pages left. I was left unsurprised by the ending.

Final thoughts and feelings: I hated this book. Honestly, it had so much potential but most of the characters were very unlikable and I ultimately did not like much of anything about it. Hanna was one of the most annoying, self-involved people ever. There were many subplots that were unimportant and raised issues that didn’t need to be brought up. I wanted to like this book because it has a pretty cover and the plot sounded interesting, but in the end, I absolutely hated it.

Rating: 1.5


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