Thursday, October 25, 2012

What I'm Reading Now: People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks

My sister highly recommended this book and it's been on my Goodreads list for quite a while. The author, Geraldine Brooks, won the Pulitzer Prize in 2006 for her novel March. Although, this type of award doesn't make me jump to read an author anymore. I've read plenty of award winners that I thought were self-consciously edgy or precious. But my sister's recommendations are good enough for me since we usually like the same types of books. I'm not going to get into the plot of the book, you can check that out here. Suffice it to say because I'm an author, reader, and promoter of literacy, I'm interested in anything related to books and how they tell stories.

I liked how Ms. Brooks broke the novel down between the investigations that Hanna conducted into the various clues she found in the haggadah with the stories of how they came to be there. It was an imaginative way to show the history of Jews in Europe. When I think of the trials and tribulations in Jewish history, I've always thought of the flight from Egypt and WWII. There is obviously a lot of history in between, such as the expulsion of Jews from Spain

in 1492. A year we celebrate with Columbus Day, was a time of great trauma in Jewish history. They were forced to either leave Spain or convert to Christianity. Those who refused to do either died a horrible death.

About two thirds of the way through the book, I asked myself, "How is she going to wrap up all the individual strands of the plot? I hope this isn't one of those books where everything is left floating around at the end." Call me boring or a traditionalist, but I don't like endings that leave everything in free fall. Ms. Brooks wrapped up the narrative beautifully. There was a twist I wasn't expecting, a resolution to the relationship with Hanna's mother that wasn't pretty or convenient, and information about the haggadah came to light that gave Hanna the ability to unravel its history. I found that very satisfying.  What was the point of knowing all this great information about the haggadah when the protagonist would never know it also? The relationship with Ozren also came to a gratifying conclusion.

I gave this book a three star rating on Goodreads.  I liked it but was not completely engrossed.  I thought the plot and writing were interesting and got better as the novel progressed. The first person point of view used in a good portion of the book is a turn off for me. Although it is a perfectly good point of view to write in, it has become over used. There was also a  jarring point of view shift in the "Wine Stain" chapter.  If you have kids, I would give it a PG-13 rating. There is rape, violence, guns, and sex but none of it is presented in explicit detail, mostly the author just states that it happened after the fact. I would allow my fourteen year old to read it.  Parents will have to read it and make the call themselves. Overall, I liked the book and would recommend it to others.


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