People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks

It’s hard for a booklover not to be drawn to a novel that is about …. a book. And what a book it is. The Sarajevo Haggadah at the centre of People of the Book is one of the oldest surviving Jewish illuminated texts.

The story begins when an Australian rare book expert, Hanna, is offered the job of analysing and conserving the Haggadah, beginning an exploration of its history through war-torn Sarajevo, World War II and inquisition-era Venice.

It details wartime tragedy and brutality, providing a kind of chronical of the persecution of the Jewish people through the ages. While I was brought up as a Christian, I have a strong connection with Judaism as my grandmother was brought up in the Jewish faith. This book captured the cruelty and prejudice that Jewish people have encountered over so many years, in so many places. While I was familiar with the Holocaust, I had no idea of the extent of anti-Semitism long before Hitler. However, the story also tells of the people of many different cultures and religions who risked their own lives to protect the Haggadah, in a display of solidarity between religions.

I found the start of the book a little slow and was not really drawn to Hannah, I found the detail about the history of the Haggadah and the time periods it had moved through to be fascinating.

In People of the Book, the melding of fiction with historical fact creates an intelligent and absorbing story that left me feeling like I had learnt something of the past, and subtle lessons about fear and prejudice for the future.

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