Thursday, July 9, 2009

Book Review: People of the Book

Geraldine Brooks' Year of Wonders was on my Top 10 list from last year. Absolutely fantastic. She won the Pulitzer with March, which I've not read yet, and she is going strong with her newest, People of the Book.

The novel follows the trail of a 500-year-old Sarajevo Haggadah, going backwards on its journey from wartorn Sarajevo to its creation, in the 1400s. Each section tells the tale of that century's holder of the Haggadah, people of various faiths who risked their reputations and lives to save the precious book from wars, book burnings, and neglect. Each of those sections was interspersed with the story of Hanna, a rare-book expert who is commissioned to restore the manuscript.

Brooks is a superb writer, and the story was fascinating. Each section is a world of its own, and the reader is easily transported to that time period and caught up in that character's story. And with each section, I was left wishing I could read a whole novel about that particular story. I wasn't nearly as entranced by Hanna's contemporary story as I was by the other sections, but it worked well as a whole.

I should have read this book faster, as I did keep losing track of whose story was being told. That has nothing to do with Brooks' writing but a suggestion that you might want to have a clear head when reading this book (i.e., my before-bed reading time did not do this book justice). My only niggling complaint with this book is that its style closely mimics The Girl in Hyacinth Blue (my review here), a lovely novel by Susan Vreeland. The style is so similar that I at first felt gypped, like, "Hey, I've already been here before!" I realize that this is probably a fairly common novel technique (although as a voracious reader, I have to say I've only encountered it in these two novels and in Hitty: Her First Hundred Years) but somehow it bugged me that Brooks used the same pattern as Vreeland. Silly, I know.

Ignore my one little peeve, and read the book.


Anna said...

I've had my eye on this one for a while. As I haven't read the Vreeland book, I'm thinking the similar structure won't bother me. Thanks for the review!

Diary of an Eccentric

Karyn Hinz said...

I liked this one a lot, although I think _March_ is still my favorite of hers- possibly because I read _Little Women_ numerous times when I was younger. I also enjoyed her two non-fiction books, _Foreign Correspondence_, and _Nine Parts of Desire: The Hidden World of Islamic Women_. I keep checking to see if she has anything new coming out, but so far, no. I love that she can deal with sometimes difficult topics and still end up leaving the reader with a hopeful feeling. I have a lot of trouble these days reading books that are dark and depressing. I can handle serious, but not the loss of any hope :).

Geraldine Brooks is definitely one of my favorites at the moment!

crochet lady said...

Nice review. I read that one and liked it. She is a good writer. I have not read The Girl in Hyacinth Blue, but that is weird to have a similar structure.

Hoopla said...

Please tell me March is on your TBR list. I am about halfway through it and am enjoying it easily as much as Year of Wonders.

Stephanie said...

I loved Year of Wonders, and I definitely want to read this one. Thanks for the review! :)

Marg said...

I've read both books and didn't really pick up on the similar structure, maybe because in Girl in Hyacinth Blue it was more immediate, wheras in this book there were bigger gaps between the parts of the stories.

For me the thing that let this book down was the character of Hannah because I really couldn't warm to her at all.