Audiobook Review: People of the Book

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From Wikipedia: The Sarajevo Haggadah is an illuminated manuscript that contains the illustrated traditional text of the Passover Haggadah which accompanies the Passover Seder. It is one of the oldest Sephardic Haggadahs in the world, originating in Barcelona around 1350. The Haggadah is owned by the National Museum of Bosnia and Herzegovina in Sarajevo, where it is on permanent display. Its monetary value is undetermined, but a museum in Spain required that it be insured for $7 million before it could be transported to an exhibition there in 1992.

The Sarajevo Haggadah is handwritten on bleached calfskin and illuminated in copper and gold. It opens with 34 pages of illustrations of key scenes in the Bible from creation through the death of Moses. Its pages are stained with wine, evidence that it was used at many Passover Seders.

Apparently, June is Audiobook Month (#audiobookmonth). Well then, if that is the case, I don’t think I could have chosen a better book to celebrate it with than the audio rendition of People of the Book.  Edwina Wren’s reading of Geraldine Brook’s book was an experience very much like the one had when Fenella Woolgar read Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life. It was like silk and butter and everything lovely. I could not have asked for a more pleasurable listening experience and was thrilled to have chosen the audio over the hard copy version. I do own however, the hard copy of People of the Book – it is a part of my library thanks to my fellow Hoarder Elizabeth. I’m certain it would have been just as fantastic reading the hard copy but I cannot gush enough about Ms. Wren’s narration. It did elevate this splendid story to a much higher and very ear-pleasing experience.

Hanna Heath, a rare-book expert, is charged with the conservation and validation of authenticity of the famed Sarajevo Haggadah, which has been rescued from Serb shelling during the Bosnian war. Hanna is a fantastic character, I just loved her, her snarky character and her challenging and contentious relationship with her mother. But in truth, my love, awe and wonder all go to the beautiful and what may by considered the true main character of this book – the Sarajevo Haggadah – and its (fictitious) history from the present day to its creation as well as how it came to be touched by many in the Jewish, Christian and Muslim faiths.

Brooks has imagined an beautiful and immensely engrossing story centred around this religious text, and her stories of how a butterfly wing, wine and blood stained pages, salt crystals, a white hair, all came to be found within the pages of the manuscript were absolutely brilliant. As Hanna investigates each of these findings and their possible origin in order to gain insight into the Haggadah‘s past, the reader is taken back in time and treated to complete histories and stories of how each item came to be present in the manuscript. Each story is utterly unique and not necessarily connected to the others. I especially loved how they included in their stories how it had been touched and valued by Jews, Muslims and Christians.

In reading some reviews I saw that People of the Book was compared to Dan Brown’s The DaVinci Code (?? I find that a highly questionable and an odd comparison? Is it because it deals with ancient religious texts?) or that it was clichéd and contrived.  Obviously, I strongly disagree with those comparisons and ratings or to those that call it contrived. I definitely fall into the loved category as I felt that Brooks’ imagining of the journey and history of the Sarajevo Haggadah was splendid. Also, I’ll once again trumpet the fantastic narration done by Edwina Wren and encourage all to listen to the audio. I couldn’t imagine a more suited audiobook to celebrate with this month, Audiobook Month. 5 stars.

Unfortunately, the museum that housed the Sarajevo Haggadah has closed (in 2012) due to lack of funding. This article tells that story, and how, despite an offer to house it from the Metropolitan Museum in New York, it will remain in Bosnia.  As well, another article here describes that gala presentation (like the one it was destined for in People of the Book) held for the Sarajevo Haggadah and its significant meaning: “It remains the symbol of hope, of tolerance, a symbol of Sarajevo that has endured.”

The Sarajevo haggadah

(an image of the Sarajevo Haggadah as it was housed in the Bosnia National Museum.)

Literary Hoarders Penny rev