Geraldine Brooks’ novel "People of the Book" reviewed in the Chicago Tribune

December 29, 2007

Journalist and writer Geraldine Brooks.

Photo by Randi Baird.

Courtesy of

A time-traveling novel that encapsulates a story of many religious people in one historical artifact, People of the Book mixes a modern story with clues from across six centuries to construct a multi-layered and compelling narrative of struggle and redemption.  A modern rare-book conservator traces the tale of the Sarajevo Haggadah, created in 14th century Spain and surviving the Spanish Inquisition, the Nazi occupation, and the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina.  In the course of her historical exploration of persecution mixed with religious tolerance, she makes important discoveries about her own past.

As Wendy Smith wrote in The Chicago Tribune:

Taking her title from the Arabic phrase that identifies Jews and Christians as believers in the same God worshiped by Muslims, Brooks gives "people of the book" a modern, secular meaning, paying tribute to those who cherish books as "artifact[s] of the human mind and hand," fragile bulwarks of knowledge erected against the destructive ignorance that forever threatens to engulf us in flames.

A native of Sydney, Australia, Brooks converted to Judaism when she married her husband American journalist Tony Horwitz in1984.  Graduating from Columbia University’s School of Journalism, she became a foreign correspondent for The Wall Street Journal, reporting on the Middle East, Africa, and the Balkans.  After writing two nonfiction books, her first novel Year of Wonders (2001) was set in England in 1666.  Her second novel March was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2006 and followed the father of the girls of Little Women through the American Civil War.  She has most recently published Caleb’s Crossing, a novel about the first Native American to graduate from Harvard College.

Speaking about the survival of the Haggadah’s journey, Brooks wondered:

Why did this little book always find its protectors, when so many others did not?  It is interesting to me that the book was created in a period—Convivencia Spain—when diversity was tolerated, even somewhat celebrated, and that it found its way centuries later to a similar place, Sarajevo. So even when hateful forces arose in those societies and crushed the spirit of multi-ethnic, interfaith acceptance, there were those individuals who saw what was happening and acted to stop it in any way they could.

Sources: “Paging through history,” Chicago Tribune; “Plucky Charms,” Washington Post; Geraldine Brooks.


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