From the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of March, the journey of a rare illuminated manuscript through centuries of exile and war.
In 1996, Hanna Heath, an Australian rare-book expert, is offered the job of a lifetime: analysis and conservation of the famed Sarajevo Haggadah, which has been rescued from Serb shelling during the Bosnian war. Priceless and beautiful, the book is one of the earliest Jewish volumes ever to be illuminated with images. When Hanna, a caustic loner with a passion for her work, discovers a series of tiny artifacts in its ancient bindingan insect wing fragment, wine stains, salt crystals, a white hairshe begins to unlock the book's mysteries. The reader is ushered into an exquisitely detailed and atmospheric past, tracing the book's journey from its salvation back to its creation.
In Bosnia during World War II, a Muslim risks his life to protect it from the Nazis. In the hedonistic salons of fin-de-siele Vienna, the book becomes a pawn in the struggle against the city's rising anti-Semitism. In inquisition- era Venice, a Catholic priest saves it from burning. In Barcelona in 1492, the scribe who wrote the text sees his family destroyed by the agonies of enforced exile. And in Seville in 1480, the reason for the Haggadah's extraordinary illuminations is finally disclosed. Hanna's investigation unexpectedly plunges her into the intrigues of fine art forgers and ultra- nationalist fanatics. Her experiences will test her belief in herself and the man she has come to love.
A Readers Guide for People of the Book
Hanna Heath has cultivated a life of exquisite detachment. Raised by an aloof and often absent mother, she has eschewed any kind of deep emotional involvement. Butas an expert on rare books and an Australian whose nationality makes her the least controversial political choice to inspect a priceless Hebrew codexHanna is about to be plunged into a dangerous drama that will force her to confront both her past and the passions she has worked so hard to conceal.
It is 1996 when Hanna first flies to Sarajevo. The city's peace is new and still tenuous but the opportunity to inspect the famous Sarajevo Haggadah is a career-maker that she cannot pass up. A lavishly illuminated medieval Hebrew text, this Haggadah is an anomaly that has fascinated scholars for generations and its survival in war-torn Bosnia is hailed as "a symbol of the survival of Sarajevo's multiethnic ideal."
Initially put off by her armed U.N. escort and the intense scrutiny of the National Museum where she is forced to perform her delicate work, Hanna is nonetheless mesmerized by the book's astonishing beauty. She studies its inks and parchment and recovers a fragment of an insect wing, salt crystals, wine stains, and a single white hair from between the delicate pages. She also notes that the clumsily rebound book is missing its original clasps. Each discovery is a clue that offers to unlock a chapter of the Haggadah's mysterious history.
But Hanna becomes involved with more than the book during her time in Sarajevo. After she completes her initial documentation and repair work and leaves the city, she remains haunted by the few nights of intimacy she shared with Ozren Karaman, the Muslim librarian who braved enemy shelling to rescue the Hagaddah. As she travels from Vienna to Boston and then to London in the hope of deciphering her scant evidence, Hanna fleshes out shadows of the book's past. Simultaneously, Brooks reveals the gripping tale of survival behind each miniscule artifact.
During World War II, a young partisan is saved by the same Muslim who risks his life to protect the Haggadah from the Nazis. In fin-de-siecle Vienna, a Jewish doctor unwittingly plays a role in the theft of the book's clasps. In Inquisition-era Venice, a Catholic priest's most damning secret spares the book from burning. In Tarragona in 1492, a poor scribe completes the text just days before the expulsion of Spain's entire Jewish community. And in Seville in 1480, the unlikely artist paints a self-portrait into the Seder illustration.
Hanna is thrilled by her discoveries, little suspecting that her professional and personal worlds are about to come crashing down around her. When she returns to Sarajevo under very different circumstances, Hanna can no longer remain a dispassionate observer and finds that she has become one of the "people of the book" whose passions and sufferings, nobility and frailty contribute to the Hagaddah's continuing history.
The author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning March and Year of Wonders, Geraldine Brooks has made a name for herself as one of the foremost novelists of our era. In People of the Bookinspired by the true story of the Sarajevo Haggadahshe brilliantly interweaves an epic historical saga of persecution and survival with a powerful modern-day tale of private betrayals and international intrigue.