There are always those books that have been on your wishlist for years but you couldn’t rationalize paying the full price for it; “People of the Book” was one of those books for me. I remember seeing this book in the bookstores back when I was in high school, and being totally drawn to the book art. I have to admit that I totally misinterpreted the cover. I most definitely thought it was making allusions to the the Egyptian God Horus. It is actually a wing of a moth, for those of you who are like me and the obvious alludes you.
As with many New York Times Bestsellers, I am skeptical of their true merit. Not necessarily because these books aren’t worthy of such titles, but rather because I always end up a little disappointed. I think I get disillusioned with what a “New York Times Bestseller” actually means in regards to the quality of the book. The “bestseller” title gives me high expectations for the book, but I should instead take it with a grain of salt given that it doesn’t necessarily correlate with how much I will enjoy the book.
“People of the Book”, as is apparent from the title, is the story of the multitude of people who were involved in the creation and/or safe-guarding of the famed Sarajevo Haggadah [a Jewish text].
As was mentioned in a previous review, I absolutely love historical fiction pieces that intertwine multiple perspectives and storylines into the main plot. I believe that this sort of writing style for historical fiction is the most effective, as long as the transitions from past to present are done effectively. “People of the Book” did an excellent job with this and I genuinely enjoyed when the book had me time travel to unknown times and places. I would go so far as to say that I was even disappointed when the book took you back to the “present” main plot line. I, unfortunately, felt that the main plot line took away from the main focus of the book: the Haggadah. Particularly due to the love story between two of the main characters; it took away from the rest of the novel, and was unnecessary in the context of this story. The side stories, on the other hand, were perfection. My personal favorite was the last side-tale in which the artist behind the beautiful illuminations of the Haggadah was revealed.
The construction of the plot line was artfully done, and I felt that the author did an excellent job in transitioning between the main plot line and the side stories. I particularly appreciated the chronological order she chose to take with these side narratives. In addition, Geraldine Brooks did not necessarily directly connect all the parts of the story together; she left a little mystery to it and gave just enough information for the reader to be able to discern it themselves.
I am glad that I was finally able to read this book, but in the realm of historical fiction novels, this was not one of my favorites. I just felt that the main plot line took away from the side narratives, and there were parts of the main storyline that seemed extraneous. However, the central themes of the book are important ones, and Geraldine Brooks highlights them at every occasion she gets. The main theme being that historical artifacts are central to our history and their importance should be recognized. Unlike us, they are able to survive time and tell their stories to future generations, if only we would listen.