The People of the Book

Thursday, August 6, 2009

I love to read, and my Aunt Jackie does, too. She suggested I read Alexander McCall Smith and I found his books to be charming, heart-warming and hilarious. She also recommended The People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks. It was intriguing, if a little complicated. It was jam-packed with tidbits of history; a fictionalized account of the history of the Sarajevo Haggadah. I couldn’t finish it in the three week borrowing period, so three weeks ago, I got the book-on-CD and started listening. The CDs are due today and I managed to finish it this morning.

I feel like I learned a lot about Spain in the late 1400’s, and some about the Jewish religion, and a little about book binding and art history. Trouble is, what I learned may or may not be true. That’s the problem with historical fiction. Some of it is historical and some of it is fiction. When I compare the book to the Wikipedia entry on the Haggadah, they are very different, with just a few intersections.

The People of the Book is a book that is just on the edge of my comfort zone. It dealt with a topic I know very little about, so sometimes reading it was work. There were many words that were difficult to pronounce, or names I’d never heard before. It was very detailed and there is a fine line between intricate and tedious.

All of this contributed to it being a difficult read for me. I almost gave up around 2/3 of the way through, but then I thought that I’d like to keep reading/listening to get the payoff of the satisfying ending. There was an unexpected twist, and I'm still undecided if the ending was worth the work.

One troubling aspect of the book was the positive picture it painted of all Jewish people, and the negative picture of all others. Christians were depicted as ignorant and barbaric. Muslims fared only slightly better. Jews, on the other hand, were sympathetic, skilled, intelligent, and so on. Eventually I tired the blatant stereotyping.

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