People of the Book (2008) by Geraldine Brooks (2008)
I cannot recommend this work highly enough. It is a beautiful epic work spanning centuries of lives affected, connected and separated by war, borders, culture, religion, faith, family and love. The story follows the fantastic journey of the Sarajevo Haggadah, a medieval Jewish prayer book of unknown authorship. The narrative unfolds with the book in the modern day, carefully dissected and restored by Hanna Heath, an expert in ancient books. Each imperfection she finds within the book – a cat hair, an insect wing casing, a small stain – links to a person in another time and place who encountered the book. Their story then unfolds: how they came to have the book, the pains they took to protect it, and how it passed on in its journey. Hanna’s interactions with the book are told incrementally as the book’s entire history unfolds backwards to its very conception and creator.
This story spans an enormous amount of time, space and conflict, from Australia to medieval Europe, Africa and the Middle East; the amount of research that went into this novel is incredible. Brooks’ incredible storytelling skills are evident from page one: every character is fascinating, their experiences and interactions with the book are incredibly varied, and all are significant. A gripping read from the very beginning, and by the end I felt like I’d travelled the world through much of documented history.
This review can also be read on my Goodreads account.