Sunday, 18 April 2010
The trouble with a book that everyone in a book group likes is that it doesn't generate much discussion. That was the situation that we found ourselves in last Friday when we met to talk about Geraldine Brooks "The People of the Book". The story of the Sarajevo Haggadah, a Jewish book of prayer, The People of the Book tells the story of the books existence through glimpses of the lives of those who may have produced it and others who may have rescued it from destruction on a variety of occasions, although these are obviously fictionalised. We don't really know the origins of the people who have handled the book through the ages. The story begins with Hanna Heath conserving the book, an illustrated manuscript dating from the 1480s, under the eyes of UN security, in Sarajevo, after its rescue under shellfire during the Bosnian war by the Muslim librarian. The way the story of the book works backwards through history, by means of the various tiny fragments that Hanna finds aroused our curiosity, and we also found Hanna's own story, set in the present, took the impetus of the novel forward. I found the story fascinating, and it made me consider the "lives" of some of the old books in my possession (none as old as the Haggadah, although some date from the end of the 17th century) but some have signatures ut of previous owners, bits of paper stuck in or just inserted, pencilled comments and the like.