People of the Book is the masterly way Geraldine Brooks changes her style from the present day vernacular as spoken by an American girl to the ancient voices of Europe in the 15th, 17th, and 19th centuries. The American girl is the interesting and talented book researcher, Hanna, who is unearthing the history of the Sarajevo Haggadah.
Fiction and reality intersect in this novel, as the Sarajevo Haggadah is an existing illustrated manuscript, whose history as told in this novel is basically true.
The interspersed mysteries of the butterfly wing, the wine stains, the hair and the salt water are a literary jigsaw puzzle which all gratifylngly slots together under Hanna's dedicated research and imagination.
It is a nice turn of events when Hanna discovers the identity of her father, even though this is something of a stretch on the author's part. There are so many memorable characters in this novel, all suitably located in their time and place; it all rings beautifully true, so one can forgive this implausible lapse. What mother would so steadfastly refuse to reveal her daughter's father? It must have been her guilt at her part in his demise.
Among the many wonderful characters in this novel Serif Effendi Kamal stands out. He gives no allegiance to the tribalism of Judaism, Islam or Christianity but to the cultural heritage of every religion and philosophy. His compassion, integrity and bravery shine from the page. He plays a major part in saving the Haggadah for posterity.
Also very likeable is the character who painted the glories of the Haggadah in 1480 with a cat hair but whose identity is not revealed until late in the book and so should not be revealed here.
The history of the book goes backward from century to century until all the clues fall into place. Even Hanna's love story ends well – a sop to the romantic.
Ann Strickland-Clark tries not to lose friends by forcing her extreme views, political, religious and grammatical onto reluctant listeners. For years a frustrated writer, Ann, since her long departed youth, has had no doubt that one day she would be the acclaimed successor to Jane Austen. With not much time left in a wasted life Ann suspects that perhaps she should have been writing something (at least a diary of her day to day doings?) on a regular basis in order to hone her latent skills. Non-practice makes imperfect. There’s now not even enough time to become the Grandma Moses of the literary world. Ah well, there’s always the next life, if only one believed in it.