Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Historical - People of the Book

I've finished this book at last! I seem to have been reading People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks for weeks on end although it is, in fact, probably only ten days. Anyway, this is my third book for the Year of the Historical challenge which is being hosted by
Lurv a la Mode.

Hanna Heath is an Australian restorer of ancient books and texts. The phone rings in the middle of the night and she's offered the opportunity of a lifetime - that of restoring a centuries old Haggadah, which is a Jewish, illuminated book. Unfortunately, the book is in wartorn Sarajevo where it was saved from the bombs by a librarian. Hanna travels to Bosnia to meet 'Ozran', who saved the book, and to examine the volume for herself. In the process of restoring it she finds several clues to its journey from the 15th. century to present day... an insect's wing, a grey hair, a couple of stains, salt crystals. Hanna's life is complicated, she never knew her father and has an unsatisfactory relationship with her mother who is an eminent brain surgeon. She also has difficulty maintaining relationships with men, shrugging them off the minute they start to get close.

The story within the story focuses on the Haggadah's history. We journey back through the Bosnian war of the 1900s, see how it survived the Nazi invasion of the Balkan states, witness Vienna in the 1890s, Venice in the 1600s and so on, right back to the book's creation in Seville in 1480. Various characters people the account, priests, a young Jewish girl escaping from the Nazis, a Jewish book restorer who is addicted to gambling, a young slave girl...

Running alongside this is Hanna's story - her investigations into the book, conclusions she reaches about the clues she discovers, her train-wreck relationship with her mother and the eventual discovery of who her father was and what that leads to. When she accepted the job, Hanna had absolutely no idea that it would change her life forever.

I wish I could say that I loved this book because I really did want to. That's not to say I *dis*liked it - not at all. I found it interesting, heart-wrenching, educational... all kinds of things in fact, but hardly ever gripping. If I put it down I was never bothered about picking it up again and sometimes actively avoided doing so. Until the last fifty pages, when I suddenly became wrapped up in events and wanted to read on to see what happened to Hanna. I can't really explain it, because I can't name anything that was actually wrong with the book at all. I'm inclined, though not convinced, to think it might have been my mood. Sometimes I'm in the mood for something a bit more challenging and maybe I'm just not at the moment? I don't know; it makes no sense.

Anyway, this is going to the charity shop unless someone wants to grab it off me? You would be most welcome. I'm in the minority with my reaction to this one - most seem to love it. As it's my plan to read quite a few books off my tbr pile this year and weed them out a bit, I have no complaints about doing that with this book.


Anonymous said...

Cath, I totally understand your statement about mood and reading a particular book. I have that same problems myself. Sometimes just not the right book. Sometimes the right book and not the right time for it.

That being said, I did like People of the Book, although I don't recall reading it rapidly. I think it was more of a thoughtful, slower read. I'm OK with that part of the time, but it does make me frustrated occasionally. We discussed this book in my book club and it was quite interesting. We had one member bring a haggadah for us to look at. Fascinating!

Anonymous said...

Maybe it was your mood, but maybe not - my reaction to this book was exactly the same!

DesLily said...

geez lol.. that's been me with anything i've read for months now! I can't seem to get any speed going! Nothing has been wrong with the books I've been reading either but it's been quite a while since I've flown thru a book and wished it wasn't ending!
I hope your next choice is a better one!

Nymeth said...

It's a pity it wasn't gripping, because it sounds like there was so much else to love about it! Ah well. I've yet to read any Brooks, but I'm planing to get to March next month.

Kailana said...

I really want to read this. I am sorry it was a disappointment for you!

Cath said...

Kay: it does happen, doesn't it... reading a book at the wrong time. And sometimes it can be really hard to know what kind of book you're in the mood for!

I bet it was fascinating actually seeing a haggadah. I clearly needed to approach this as a slower read. Maybe if I'd known that before I started it wouldn't have frustrated me so much.

fleurfisher: it's interesting to note that you had the same reaction. I checked Amazon after I'd done this review and noticed that a couple of people there felt the same, one person called it 'plodding'. So it's not just us.

Pat: well it had to happen - I've had a really long run of good books. LOL. Don't worry, your slow patch will come to an end eventually.

Nymeth: there was a lot that was interesting about the book, and I'm not sorry to have read it, but I'm certain I won't be rereading it.

Kailana: it happens. I've been lucky of late and enjoyed everything I've read... for months. It had to end eventually.

BooksPlease said...

I'm sorry you weren't that taken with this book. I bought it ages ago (it seems)and whilst I was keen to read it when I bought it somehow the time has never been right to start it. I really enjoyed March, so I was expecting this to be as good. I see I'll have to take it slowly and not expect too much.

Cath said...

Margaret: if I've learned one thing it's that this is a book best read slowly, whereas I think I was trying to rush it. I wasn't in the mood for a slower book and probably should never have picked it up in the first place. It does seem to me that it's a good idea to have this kind of info *before* you start a book.

Tara said...

It's too bad you didn't like this one more - I have a copy of it waiting for me one of these days. I am definitely a moody reader too so I understand where you're coming from.

Cath said...

Tara: it really is a book best read thoughtfully and at leisure. I wish I'd known that.