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The title says it all. People of the Book. The words and images of an ancient Jewish prayer book are not the focus of the novel. Rather the stain on a page, a hair, missing clasps are discovered and traced through the forensic skills of rare book conservator, Hanna Heath, connecting the rare medieval manuscript, to those who had the fortune, or misfortune of possessing it.

The smouldering ruins of Sarajevo are the starting point of a mysterious travel through time as Geraldine Brooks uncovers the brutal struggles of ancient religious and secular forces that shape the people of the Book. The author’s masterful style is beautiful, lively, igniting all the senses, weaving the past with the present.

The reader is caught up in the easy flow of the story, with the use of striking metaphors, similes, and vivid descriptions. Here are two of my favourites.

“Dusk was a dinner bell for millions of mosquitoes, and we were the catch of the day. Just thinking about them made me itch all over.”

“She was in complete control of her data and responded to what she considered to be good points or queries with a gracious eloquence. But woe to anyone who asked something half-baked, or questioned her conclusions. She would fix them with this charming smile, but you could hear the chainsaw revving. Without a hint of anger or arrogance in her voice, she’d dismember them. I really couldn’t bear to watch her do it to students, but this room, full of blokes was another matter.”

The story combines both fact and fiction; is complex and compelling; beautiful and tragic.

Five stars.


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