Some people have compared this book to Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code and I wasn't surprised to hear that. The thought had already flashed across my mind while the protagonist was flitting from one continent to another without stopping for a loo break or a hamburger and chips and I wondered who was paying her airline bills; this was what I disliked most about Brown's book and what smacked it in the credibility face. That apart, I found People of the Book beyond comparison in that it had far more literary style and a more realistic and original plot and it's written by a seasoned journalist and Pulitzer Prizewinner. The main characters were well developed and had their own lives stranded around the plot until its resolution but there was a cutoff point at which I felt it was time to end and it didn't.
The Haggadah* in question is rescued from the ruins of war-torn Sarajevo - ironically by a muslim (not for the first time) - having originally come to light there in 1894. Ozren Karaman, head of the National Museum library saves it under intense shelling and stores it in a bank vault. In 1996 rare book restorer Hanna Heath is asked to work on the ancient book, which belongs to the Museum. The book, with its lavishly painted miniatures, has survived for 600 years on its journey through wars and persecutions and times of peace where people of all faiths have lived together in harmony. Hannah becomes fascinated by its history - I would even say obsessed - and the clues she picks up from objects she finds trapped within its pages - salt crystals, a hair, wine stains, a butterfly wing - provide the basis of its story as we backtrack in time through its adventures to its origins. It's a fascinating jigsaw of people through the ages, linked by the theme of persecution and how people survive or perish in times of terror.
*What is a Haggadah? It's a prayer book and instruction book for young people used during the home service of Passover and it tells the story of the Exodus from Egypt, when the Jews fled from bondage. It includes songs and psalms recited to celebrate the Festival. It was introduced nearly 2,500 years ago to comply with words from the Old Testament Exodus, first published as a book in the 13th century and there have been many alterations made over the years with each new version.
People of the Book is published by Harper Perennial, 2008. Geraldine's website is at http://www.geraldinebrooks.com/ and on it she gives the history of the Sarajevo Haggadah.