Friday, October 23, 2009

People of the Book, by Geraldine Brooks.

After the travesty of Dracula the Un-Dead, Geraldine Brooks' People of the Book was a breath of fresh air. It was intelligent, visual and entertaining. It is a book the has found a place close to my heart, as it ties in with my own chosen career path, and my love of history.

The novel follows the story of a book conservator from Sydney, who is called to stabilise a very rare Jewish Haggadah rescued from a bombed library in war-torn Sarajevo. As the book is studied certain marks and objects are found within its pages, each telling a story which shows how the book came to be, and how it came to be in Sarajevo at that time.

The novel is perfectly paced, with just the right amount of technical detail. The reader is able to understand the work of a book conservator, without being inundated with too much technical knowledge. The relationships as conveyed in the book are real, not romanticised, and the characters are well rounded although, especially toward the end of the book, their motivations are not always as clear as they could be.

This book is rife with wit, intelligence, tragedy, and hope. Each new story the book unfolds tells us something about our own history, and makes the reader think about their own objects, and how each of the events in our lives helps shape us.

My only gripe with this novel is the ending. It felt a little forced, almost as if Brooks had tried to put a plot twist in for the sake of one. It was completely unnecessary, and in my opinion cheapened a book that up until that point had such integrity. It was by no means a terrible ending, I just didn't feel it was in keeping with the tone of the rest of the novel.

While not part of the novel, the acknowledgements is where this book had it's one true down point. Geraldine Brooks thanks her advisers for helping her determine whether a book conservator was a realistic career choice for an Australian. Really Geraldine? Really? It is this Americo-centric attitude that makes the rest of the world angry. Do we not have history worth conserving? Do we not have top notch universities who teach chemistry and accurate conservation practices? The answer to all this is of course, yes we do! We are not so backward that we are unable to protect our heritage, in fact we are one of the world leaders in heritage and conservation. There we are. Rant over.

All in all this book was fantastic. Without a doubt one of the best books I have read in a long time. It was intelligent without being pretentious, and fast paced without being formulaic. Perhaps it won't be everyone's cup of tea, but as a lover of history this novel really spoke to me.



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