THE PLOT: People of the Book follows Hanna as she tries to uncover the story of medieval text the Sarajevo Haggadah. An Australian expert on book conservation, she’s tasked with restoring the book in 1996 so it can go on display after the Bosnian War. As she works, she finds clues to the history of the book – its near destruction by the Nazi’s in Austria, its rescue from the Pope’s flames in 17th century Venice and its journey from Spain during the 1492 expulsion of the Jews [NB – These aren’t spoilers!]. But, most importantly, this historical novel weaves backwards in time through the people of different faiths and cultures (to the Haggadah’s creator) who saved such an important text.
RATING: I raced through this book and it thoroughly deserves four stars. An enchanting tale, the myriad of historical settings were richly described and each time period was well-researched. The plot was so strong, with hints and clues, it draws you in as you become desperate to know the story of the Haggadah and find its creator.
GOOD BITS: This novel is well-structured with clear delineations between time periods, which adds to the pacing. Tension is created in each section with little hints and clues about the Haggadah, as well as tension in Hanna’s present day as characters have conflicting motives in their desire to save the relic.
NOT SO GOOD BITS: It added drama that Hanna had her own storyline, separate to her work on the Haggadah, but this felt a bit melodramatic at points. I kept wanting to race past her issues with her parents and get back to the historical bits!
OVERALL: Most importantly, I loved the theme. There’s a great sense that we’re all connected through time. To be alive in this present moment, we must all have ancestors stretching back through the past. As I have Jewish, Muslim and Christian heritage, the idea of different faiths working together to save the Haggadah particularly resonated with me.