Tuesday 22 October 2019

forensic trail tells VERY diffERENT tale

Simmy Richman

People of the Book

By Geraldine Brooks

(Fourth Estate, st£16.99)

Although it contains religious mysteries, ancient secrets and a young protagonist intent on uncovering the truth, People of the Book has more in common with A S Byatt's Possession than it does Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code.

Geraldine Brooks' previous novel, 2005's March, won its Australian-born, US-based author a Pulitzer Prize.

Brooks' third novel is a literary mystery in which the mystery is revealed through literature; not what one might find from reading between the lines of an ancient manuscript, but what an expert might uncover by examining fragments, stains and forensic clues. Inspired by the Sarajevo Haggadah, an early illuminated Jewish manuscript that survived Spanish Inquisition and the Nazis, Brooks tells the story of the people behind the book, working backwards to its creation.

The story begins in Sarajevo in 1996 with Hannah Heathvolume and white hair, a fragment from an insect's wing, a wine stain that contains blood and traces of salt.

How and when these objects came to be there gives People of the Book its shape as subsequent chapters trace the tales behind each.

As the action switches from Sarajevo to Vienna, Venice, Barcelona and Jerusalem, Brooks concludes that the world is made up of two types -- those who would destroy books and those who would give their lives to save them.

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