People of the Book
This is a truly passionate novel by an author, who puts her heart into it. And, in a few words, she can create the dense, authentic atmosphere of the different eras, her main character, a priceless Jewish “Haggadah”, is travelling through. The heroine Hanna, an Australian rare book expert and restorer, is asked for her expertise on this book, before it will be on display in the National Library of Sarajevo in 1996.
And Brooks unveils the spectacular history of this treasure: In the Bosnian war it was saved by the Muslim director of the library, again during Nazi occupation by another muslim. Then we follow the book´s journey through the centuries to Vienna, where its binding was rather badly repaired, to Venice, where the Jewish book is threatened by the inquisition, then to Spain at the end of the 15th century, where its writer has to flee the country in a pogrom, and finally we learn, how the unusual illustrations of a Jewish holy book have been painted by a young Muslim woman. She left a white cat´s hair in the book, part of her paint brush, others left wine or blood stains, or a dried butterfly wing during the book´s latest hiding place in the Bosnian mountains. Interwoven in this genesis of the book is Hanna´s complicated personal life story.
It´s all a bit much, and not every chapter is equally convincing, but the story is intriguing and fascinating to read. For once, the century-long struggle of the Jewish community in Europe to survive is described in a passionate, convincing tone. In the afterword we learn, that Brooks, a long-term journalist for the “Wall Street Journal”, has based her story on the true Sarajewo Haggadah and its rescue by muslims.