The other day Arvind asked me to describe a book that I would love to read. He further added that the book could belong to any genre and have a theme or writing style that I haven’t come across till now. Basically, he asked me to imagine a book that could mesmerise me.. the book of my dreams. It should have been easy for me to answer him, but it wasn’t. Turns out the conscious human mind is quite limited in its imagination. As I struggled to come up with an answer I realised its not going to be an easy task. The conversation moved on and the question lay forgotten.
I recollect this memory as I began writing the review for People of The Book because I realise that this is the book that completely mesmerised me. I will even go to the extent of saying this is the book of my dreams, the story I want to read again and again. Clearly Geraldine Brooks had a vivid imagination and a lot of patience to bring together this masterpiece. If I had even an ounce of imagination she has, I would have perhaps been able to give an answer to my husband’s very simple question.
From the time I’ve started reading, I’ve been drawn to certain themes and periods in history. In particular, the history of Jews – from the early Nazareth times to the more recent birth of Israel. No other cultural or religion fascinates me as much as Judaism. As a result, for a long time I gravitated towards books that had the Jewish struggle as its centre point. Mention a book on holocaust and it is very likely that I have read it. Only in the last few years I’ve started making a conscious effort to read books around different time periods – Russian revolution, African American struggles, Chinese imperialism. In my mind, World War 2 and the holocaust were put to rest.
And then People of The Book happened
I ordered the paperback in July from Amazon along with a bunch of other books. I did not read the reviews or the synopsis, just relied on Lonely Planet’s recommendation and settled myself for what turned out to be a long lockdown.
What is the book about?
People of the Book traces the journey of an exquisitely illustrated Jewish manuscript – the Haggadah. The year is 1996 and Hannah Heath, an Australian rare-book expert, has been called upon to undertake the task of deciphering the secrets that the book holds. The Haggadah has been rescued from Serb shelling during the Bosnian war. For Hannah, it is her dream job. For the Haggadah, it is a chance to finally come on the forefront and be displayed and admired after centuries of threat and ridicule. As Hannah investigates the manuscript through her expert eyes, she discovers everyday objects hidden in plain sight. Each object reveals a story – a story of Haggadah’s vivid past and ultimately leading to the story of its creation.
Brooks has artistically created two parallel worlds in the book. One is the present, Hannah’s world, which is going through its own tribulations and the other is the Haggadah’s which covers time-spans and centuries and gives the reader a glimpse into its varied past. Geraldine Brooks has redefined story-telling for me. Her writing is so rich and powerful with each era and place put together so beautifully. It’s hard not to imagine as if you are right there, along with the Haggadah traversing time and lands.
I highly recommend this book if you, like me, love a good historical mystery. Mystery not in the way depicted in Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons (although I loved these books too) but more like if Haley’s Roots met Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Traveler’s Wife… or something like that.
That analogy sucked! Do you have a better literary comparison for this book than the above?