I love historical fiction, books about books, and books about Jewish people, so it is no surprise that I enjoyed People of the Book, by Geraldine Brooks. It is a novel based on a real life object, the Sarajevo Haggadah. A Haggadah is the book that tells the story of Passover, and it is used during a Passover Seder. The Sarajevo Haggadah was created in the 15th century in Spain, and is richly illuminated. It is enshrouded in mystery: why was an illuminated Haggadah created, when creating graven images goes against orthodox Judaism; how did it survive for so many years; and how did it end up in Sarajevo?
Geraldine Brooks takes us from here on a fictional story of a book conservationist examining the Haggadah in the 1990s, through which she discovers various clues to its past. Interspersed with the book conservationist’s story are segments telling the story of some aspect of the Haggadah’s past. Through the course of the stories Brooks gives a sensitive treatment to Jewish traditions and stories, and it got me thinking about how Jews have kept alive a rich culture dispite living in diaspora.
People of the Book is well-written and engaging. My only disappointment with it was that the scope was smaller than I expected. For some reason I thought it was going to be an epic novel, but instead it is a novel with a small scope, emphasizing the importance of family, love, honor, and tradition. Despite it being a bit different from what I expected, I greatly enjoyed it and I highly recommend it.