Geraldine Books, the author of March and Year of Wonders, has written another inspired work of historical fiction. People of the Book is the story of an ancient Hebrew manuscript known as the Sarajevo Haggadah, and the book’s conservator, Hanna Heath.
The novel alternates between the dramatic tales of the people of the haggadah and Hanna, who coaxes their stories from artifacts found in the book’s binding. Who created the haggadah? Why is it so beautifully illuminated when Jewish belief at the time was firmly against illustrations? How did this fragile book survive six centuries?
In tracing the haggadah back to fifteenth-century Spain, Hanna finds that a disparate group of individuals throughout Europe played a role in the creation and preservation of the codex. Foolish, brave Lola, a Jewish girl in World War II Sarajevo, the alcoholic Venician priest Vistoirni, and the talented Muslim artist Zahra bint Ibrahim al-Tarek are a few of the characters whose lives were touched by the book.
The historical characters are vividly rendered, the contemporary characters less so. Nonetheless, People of the Book is a winning combination of history and suspense.
This ECW Classic Review was originally published in NFocus magazine.