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Tuesday, March 17, 2009

People of the Book

People of the Book
by Geraldine Brooks
audio book: 13.93 hours

Amazing. This audio book was simply amazing. It is the best recorded book that I have listened to in quite some time. And what makes it even better is that parts of this story are based on fact.

*** The Plot ***

Australian book conservator Hanna Heath is called to Eastern Europe to help study and conserve the Sarajevo Haggadah, a 600-year old Jewish prayer book. This particular Haggadah is unlike any other in existence because it includes gorgeous painted illustrations and that goes against Jewish belief.

While working on the book Hanna discovers a butterfly wing, a wine stain, a white hair, and several other clues. Each of her discoveries pushes the storyline back farther in time, providing vignettes in the life of the Haggadah. The story makes stops in World War II, 19th century Venice, the Inquisition, Spain in the 1300s, and more.

The book is factually based! There really is a Sarajevo Haggadah (read about it here) and some of the stories Brooks tells in this book are based on the its known history. Brooks has an amazing connection to the Haggadah as she was able to see it being examined just as her character Hanna examines it in PEOPLE OF THE BOOK.

*** My Thoughts ***

I absolutely LOVED this book. I've already lent the CDs to my sister and as soon as she returns them I am going to listen to it again. I can't believe I let this sit on my shelf so long! This is definitely a keeper. That is very uncommon for me but I know I'll be lending it out to friends and family and I know I'll listen to it again and again.

Hanna's story is only the tip of the iceberg. There are so many parts to the Haggadah's history! As I listened, I had to keep reminding myself that these aren't stories that Hanna will ever learn; we as readers/listeners know much more than she ever will.

My favorite of the historical stories is the oldest one. If you've read PEOPLE OF THE BOOK, which story was your favorite?

The fact that the story is based in part on real events is a huge draw for me. It makes the rest of the stories so much more interesting, knowing that some of these things did really happen, and that other could have ... oh I just LOVE books like this, especially when they are well written (as this one is).

A quick note about the audio version: The narrator of the book has a wonderful range of voices. She was able to create many different characters with a variety of accents, all in a believable way. Her talent made this an excellent audio book.

*** Miscellaneous ***

I nominated this book for my book club to read but they voted it down. Regardless, I still purchase the Bookclub-in-a-Box Guide because I wanted it for myself (I previously used their guide for THE POISONWOOD BIBLE and it was extremely helpful). As soon as I finished the book I devoured the guide, and that is where I learned that this book is factually based. I had no clue while I was reading it! The guide had lots of other fascinating info as well. [Here I will insert a plug for Bookclub-in-a-Box: They have fantastic guides that really add a lot to your understanding of a book. I highly recommend trying them out even if you aren't in a book club.]

A local book/stationary/gift store is hosting their first book club on Wednesday to discuss this book. I'm planning to drive the 45 minutes to the store after work so I can attend - this is one of those books that just begs to be discussed! I'll give you a report on how it goes later this week.

Oh, and one more thing. If you are anywhere near Lexington, Massachusetts, Geraldine Brooks will be in your area on March 21. I would SO love to meet this woman - this is the 2nd book of hers that I have read, and I think she is amazing.


Meghan said...

I think my favorite historical section was the oldest one too! For me, they got more interesting the further back in history she went. I also had to remind myself that we learn way more than Hanna knows. It was odd, but I loved the book.

Jen - devourer of books said...

Nore I almost wish I hadn't finally acquired a print version of this book so I could search for it in audio! Regardless, I really will have to read it soon, I feel like I'm missing out.

Jen - devourer of books said...

Nore I almost wish I hadn't finally acquired a print version of this book so I could search for it in audio! Regardless, I really will have to read it soon, I feel like I'm missing out.

Amanda said...

Hmmm...I read this when it first came out and I was a little disappointed. I think maybe because I didn't like Hanna. I did like the stories but I can't really remember them too well. I think I liked the one with the bug or insect or whatever in the pages the best. Maybe I should have checked out the audio version.

Ti said...

Our book club voted it down too. I am so glad you enjoyed this one. Wasn't this a Barnes & Noble Discover New Writers book? They usually have pretty good books in that series.

Myrthe said...

I have the book on my TBR-pile, because I heard so many good things (and a few meh-things) about it. Thanks for your review, Heather!

bermudaonion said...

Wow! That must be really good if you're going to listen to it again so quickly. Great review.

Heather J. said...

Meghan - yes, I agree completely!

Jen - the audio was so well done, I'm not sure if I'd have loved the print version as much.

Amanda - yeah, I think you might have enjoyed it more that way too.

Ti - I don't know, but if so, they picked a GREAT author.

bermudaonion - I know, right?!

Alyce said...

I really want to read this book! Maybe I'll suggest it for the next month's bookclub pick.

Dawn - She is Too Fond of Books said...

Loved, loved, loved this book! My review is here.

Yes, the historical sections were most interesting; Hanna and her story were the common thread, but not my favorites.

Geraldine Brooks lives off Mass., but comes to the Boston area fairly often, I think. She was in our town a month or so ago at a local bookstore. She spoke about the *real* Sarajevo Haggadah and her inspiration for the novel. The real history was so interesting and intersected her writing so neatly ... she never even read a page from the book, but we were all satisfied!

Anna said...

I've had my eye on this one for a while. I've heard such good things about it, and now I know I must get my hands on a copy.

Diary of an Eccentric

Sarah G said...

I started reading this, but then I had to return it to the library because someone had it on hold! Arrrgghhh!

Rebecca Reid said...

I didn't know this was factually based. I think I may pick up the audio when I'm next looking for one.

Heather J. said...

Rebecca - Just to clarify, the Haggadah does actually exist, and the part of the story that occured during WWII is based on fact. The rest is just conjecture. But is was VERY good!

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