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People of the Book    by Geraldine Brooks order for
People of the Book
by Geraldine Brooks
Order:  USA  Can
Penguin, 2008 (2008)
Hardcover, Paperback, Audio, CD

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* * *   Reviewed by Barbara Lingens

The Sarajavo Haggadah is a real manuscript with a history that even today is still being explored. Normally a haggadah is created for home use to tell the story of the Exodus. Geraldine Brooks has made use of the known facts about this work to imagine several riveting tales surrounding its movement. Told in flashback as a book conservator works to prepare the volume for its museum debut, the stories demonstrate author Brooks' superb research skills. As Hanna uncovers certain anomalies in the ancient book, we are transported back in time to learn, among other things, how the wine stain came to be mixed with blood and what the white hair really was.

Hanna is representative of our modern, more technical times. Though she has all the tools and colleagues needed to help her investigation, she herself lacks any emotional connection. In contrast, the vignettes describe people passionate for family and belief in times of great strife and turmoil. However, an automobile accident that seriously injures her mother causes Hanna's personal life to be forever changed, and she finds the means to feel comfortable with herself and be proud of who she is.

This is a story you have a hard time putting down. Besides the unique tales set in various time periods, the details they contain - descriptions of how letters are made and colors created and applied, the historical settings and customs - are all really interesting. Also, there is a huge cast of characters, individuals who come and go. Personally, since Hanna's life pales by comparison and is understandably not as fully developed, I wish the vignettes could have been longer. After you enjoy the book let me know whether you agree.

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