People of the Book, by Geraldine Brooks (20 May — 27 May)

People of the Book is the fake story of the Sarajevo Haggadah, an illuminated seder text that baffles historians to this day. Brooks took some of the facts of the haggadah’s discovery and created fictional characters and situations to explain how these things came to be.

Our protagonist, Hanna Heath, is a young but excellent book conservator who is tapped to handle the restoration of the book. While examining it, she discovers an insect wing, some wine stains, and a few salt crystals that pique her interest and get her asking questions. Although Hanna doesn’t get all the answers, we do — Brooks writes scenarios for all of these that give a sense of the “people of the book” and why it is so important and revered.

I quite enjoyed this book, though it was a bit of a slow go as the narrative jumps back and forth between Hanna in the present and the other characters in their respective times. I found these journeys into the past to be more exciting than the present narrative, in which we discover that Hanna hates her mother and doesn’t form lasting relationships and works with far too many young but excellent professionals. In the past, we discover the tyranny of religion, the compassion of individuals, and all of the discrete steps that had to be taken to make the Sarajevo Haggadah the complete book it is today. I can only hope that the haggadah’s true story is as excellent as its fake one.

Rating: 8/10
(Support Your Local Library Challenge)