Sunday, December 2, 2012

People of the Book-Geraldine Brooks

People of the Book-Geraldine Brooks

the facts:
satisfaction: up/side
pages: 368
gender: F
nationality: Australia
year: 2008
Novel

this ambitious, electrifying work traces the harrowing journey of the famed Sarajevo Haggadah, a beautifully illuminated Hebrew manuscript created in fifteenth-century S pain. When it falls to Hanna Heath, an Australian rare-book expert, to conserve this priceless work, the series of tiny artifacts she discovers in its ancient binding-an insect wing fragment, wine stains, salt crystals, a white hair-only begin to unlock its deep mysteries and unexpectedly plunges Hanna into the intrigues of fine art forgers and ultra-nationalist fanatics.

I'm of two minds about this book. It was an entertaining read.

The parts set in the past are beautiful. The writing is strong, setting is well realized, and the tensions are strong, believable, and sensitively treated. Occasionally the ignorance of other religions seemed too much as an opportunity to show off Brooks's elementary grasp of religions but for the most part Al-Andalus, Sarajevo, Vienna, and Venice were lovely sections to be reading.

The narrator, the modern day conservator, Hanna, however was problematic as a character and as a plot device. Brooks manages to make book conservation into an exciting job which isn't seen too often (and it is better treated than Indiana Jones treats archaeology) but beyond her fascination with her task, Hanna is unrealistic. The characters she interacts with are one dimensional and the dialogue hard to believe. Her relationship to her mother moves far away from dysfunctional and into the realm of ummm, no. She is not a likable character and perhaps if she didn't exotify mixed race people as really attractive mutts, I could have looked past that. Also, how can a barely 30 year old take time off from school yet gain 2 BAs, MA, PhD, involved apprenticeships, AND the kinds of jobs that will give her such a strong international reputation that lands her a job with sole responsibility for the Haggdah? Really now. And then it's SOOO easy to drop book conservation and pick up outdoor art conservation? A completely different field with different skill sets? And she's not the only one, she keeps meeting very important people who are the same age. Maybe I'm just jealous because that's pretty cool sounding but in real life, it takes much more time to gain that many degrees and chances are, people in positions of power, like head curators, tend to be more 40s-early 60s.

Yeah, so I really didn't like about half the book and really loved half the book. The parts with Hanna are interspersed with the historical parts but it's still easy to skip one half for the other.

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