Inspired by the restoration of one of the world’s most valuable books Geraldine Brooks’ People of the Book imagines the creation of the Sarajevo Haggadah, which tells the story of Jewish liberation from slavery in Egypt as described in the book of Exodus. The book’s history is revealed by a blood stain, a cat hair or some sea salt, the presence of which is effectively explained in a series of short stories set in the midst of a most terrible persecution of the Jewish people.
Sadly the project fails because Brooks is unable to provide a coherent unifying narrative. We have a protagonist of sorts in the form of the book restorer, Hanna, and a disjointed back story as she battles a tiresome personal crisis centring on her relationship with her mother. But the form means that Hanna remains ignorant of the people of the book, she knows nothing, for example, of the gambling addicted Rabbi that Brooks imagines saving the book from destruction in Venice. Characterisation is terribly poor throughout, so it’s hard to care for the sometimes hysterical Aussie or even the people of the book.
Ultimately, People of the Book is worthy but, unlike the Sarajevo Haggadah, unilluminating.
People of the book by Geraldine Brooks is published in hardback on 7 January 2008, pre-order from Amazon.co.uk.