Archive for the ‘rare books’ Category

It’s unfortunate that I love to read but can rarely remember the details for very long afterwards. I really should have blogged about this book as soon as I finished it. Perhaps that’s because I didn’t enjoy this title as much as Year of Wonders by the same author. That’s not to say that this wasn’t a good read.

The subject of the People of the Book is a Hebrew codex called the Sarajevo Haggadah, an elaborately illustrated work dating back to medieval Spain. Hanna is a book conservator who gets the opportunity of a lifetime. She is asked to restore the book when it is discovered in post-war Bosnia. As she examines the book she finds clues about the provenance of the Haggadah – a blood stain, a white hair, an insect part. We follow Hanna’s story as she tries to untangle the path that the book has taken, falls in love with the keeper of the book and struggles with her harshly critical mother. Interspersed with Hanna’s story is the tale of the book, beginning with its origins in medieval Spain and following it through major events in European history. The Haggadah inspires heroic acts of protection as well as greed.

I do love a story with a mystery to be unraveled – all the better if the mystery requires someone to spend some hours in a library searching through old archives and papers. Add the evocative place descriptions and the stories about how each character is affected by the Haggadah, and you have a pretty good package. There was something about the protagonist that was little off-putting though. For someone who travels the world and works in a demanding and sanctified field, she seems a little… I guess I want to use the word jejune. Her relationship with her mother in particular reminded me of something from a teen novel. But that may be unfair. After all, I know plenty of 30 and 40 somethings who still struggle with their family relationships, myself included!

Still, it was well worth the wait for this book. Those who enjoy the literary themes, historical mysteries and descriptive settings in this book might also like The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova and The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield. These might even hold some appeal for Da Vinci Code fans.


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