In honor of her newest book, The Secret Chord (published in 2015), I wanted to take a moment to talk about one my favorite books of all time, by Geraldine Brooks.
The main character in “People of the Book” is… well, a book. A book that survived. A book that tells us stories of the present, of the distant past, and of each person whose hands were there, at some point in its life, to coddle or mangle, to save or destroy it. For all of us who revere books, here is a book about a book. For all of us who have longed to blow the dust off an old, tattered volume and have that fine powder fashion itself into pictures and words that tell us the book’s own history, here is that rare, descriptive dust.
Inspired by the true story of the recovered Sarajevo Haggadah, an illuminated Jewish manuscript created around the year 1350, this book is historical fiction at its best. A rare-books expert is hired to analyze and conserve the recently rediscovered Haggadah. Inside its threadbare binding she finds a white hair, a butterfly wing, a wine stain and salt crystals. Each artifact carries with it a deep and complicated story of its own – a story into which we, as readers, are delivered with ease. We find out where this book comes from and what it has been through. Much like hearing the ragged stories of an aging grandparent, we come to respect the perseverance of the book itself, and of the people that managed, through the chaos of war, exile, and persecution, to protect it.
This is more than a book about a book. It is a book about humanity’s respect for the written word. In this age of digitalization, it is a book about the wonders of the hard copy; how the pages themselves have texture and depth; how the smell of an old, worldy-wise text can transport you back to a certain time or a certain person. I love “People of the Book” because it reminds me of all the things a Nook or a Kindle will never be. It reminds me of the physical and mental creation of paper, of book, of words strung together to form tales, and most of all, of history.
Reviewed by: Tate DeCaro