Geraldine Brooks Watch #2

Reviews of People of the Book

Those in favour:
Terri Schlichenmeyer in "The Eagle-Tribune": "People of the Book starts out slow; so slow, that I wasn't sure I could make it through almost 400 pages. There's a lot of setup to make the story work, and not much happens for the first couple segments. In the end, I was glad I stuck it out...With time-framing reminiscent of Pulp Fiction, some factual history, the existence of a real book and a fictional character who is increasingly easy to like, the Pulitzer Prize-winning Brooks takes you on a five-century trip from Bosnia to Venice, Vienna to Spain, and inside mosques, churches and torture chambers...If you like historical mysteries, antique-hunting or The Da Vinci Code, pick up People of the Book. This book about a book is a double delight for anyone who craves the
written word."
Lena on "The Reading Obsession" weblog: "I loved the book! The writer really caught the essence of the struggles of the Jewish people throughout history and really drew me into the story. It is not an 'on the edge of your seat' kind of book, but if the reader is looking for a wonderfully engaging story with a bit of a historical feel to it this book is a perfect fit for that type of reading."
Briefly noted in "The New Yorker": "...the final, multilayered effect is complex and moving."

Those against:
Polly Shuman in "...perhaps because Brooks covers so much temporal ground in People of the Book, the historical voices never sound true to their periods. The further back she goes in time, the more contrived the stories get and the more the characters seem like parodies of politically correct cliches. The Haggadah is a mystical magnet for people with secret Jewish ancestry and anachronistically literate girls, a rainbow coalition of the feisty but disempowered. The equally contrived framing story - a journey of self-discovery involving a car crash, cancer, a family secret, forgery and betrayal - brandishes the same lessons. Even though I share Brooks' liberal values, I found the novel's cloying yet aggressive sanctimoniousness hard to take."
Susan Comninos in "The Philadelphia Inquirer": "the novel, in its proselytizing zeal for universality, sometimes puts anachronistic lingo in the mouths of its medieval characters. For instance, the refusal of a Moorish slave girl to humiliate a Christian woman - by painting her naked likeness for their Muslim captor - is explained by a self-help declaration: " 'No ... I can't do this. I know what it is to be raped. You can't ask me to assist your rapist.'"...People of the Book shouldn't have to rely on such heavy-handed prose or pointed making of points. A simple explication of the real-life story of the Sarajevo haggadah - one of individual bravery in the face of a larger brutality - would have sufficed."
Lisa Fugard in "The New York Times": "We are left wishing Brooks had found a less obtrusive way to gather up the many strands of her narrative. While peering through a microscope at a rime of salt crystals on the manuscript of the Haggadah, Hanna reflects that "the gold beaters, the stone grinders, the scribes, the binders" are "the people I feel most comfortable with. Sometimes in the quiet these people speak to me." Though the reader's sense of Hanna's relationship with the Haggadah rarely deepens to such a level, Geraldine Brooks's certainly has."
Miriam Shaviv in "The Jewish Chronicles": "It is a brilliant concept and, although most of the stories are based on a factual nugget - a Catholic priest did sign the Haggadah in Venice and one illumination includes a picture of a black woman at the Seder table - they are a triumph of imagination...But it is let down by some flat writing.Brooks gives Hanna Heath a love interest, a rocky relationship with her mother, a celebrity father and a voyage of self-discovery. It is all too much, and detracts from the absorbing historical narratives - though a couple of these, as well, are overloaded with historical and technical detail."

And if the reviews are all getting a bit much, you can listen to the author talking about her book on All Things Considered, from Minnesota Public Radio.

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This page contains a single entry by Perry Middlemiss published on February 8, 2008 4:21 PM.

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