Turning the Pages of the Past   Leave a comment

People of the Book traverses science, religion and history when rare book conservationist Hannah Heath is tasked with examining the Sarajevo Haggadah, rescued from the Bosnian War. In the process, Hannah unearths clues about its antiquity while restoring it for the future.

Geraldine Brooks has crafted an engaging account that delves not only into Hannah’s life, but the origins of the Haggadah, considered one of the earliest Jewish books created. Its vivid illustrations make it unique.

Thanks to Hannah’s expertise and the accessibility of modern technology, she’s able to take microscopic artifacts from the pages to analyze. The results reveal the book’s journey through Middle Eastern and early European history, with a focus on the persecution of Jews and a realization of the Haggadah’s significance and the need to protect it.

Hannah is introduced in 1996 where she first comes into contact with the book and discovers a miniscule part of an insect wing in the book’s binding. The chapters alternate between Hannah’s narrative and those of the people associated with the elements she uncovers in her analysis. While her life moves forward, the book’s moves backward in time and place. From the initial identification of the insect fragment traced to Sarajevo in 1940. to a feather and a rose to a wine stain, from salt to, finally, a white hair traced to 1480, the stories of those who held the book are told.

Hannah’s background also comes to light. Her own past confirms the unknown is part of everyone and everything.

People of the Book

Four Bookmarks

Penguin Books, 2008

372 pages, plus Reader’s Guide

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