Geraldine Brooks Watch #4


Bob Thompson in "newindpress on Sunday".

When she'd first launched herself on a newspaper career, she says, she'd overcome her shyness in part "because it wasn't me making the call, it was the Sydney Morning Herald." She'd won a scholarship to the graduate school of journalism at Columbia, where she'd met her future husband, Tony Horwitz. She'd been hired by the Journal's Cleveland bureau, quit to return to Australia when her father became ill, and been hired back when the paper decided it needed someone to cover Australasia. But the Middle East was terrifying on a whole new scale. "I was completely unqualified," she says. She'd never been a real foreign correspondent, certainly not one whose to-pack checklist would include both a chador and a bulletproof vest -- not to mention the "big pile of State Department briefing books on my lap, you know: crash course in Yemen."
Reviews of People of the Book

Those in favour:

Linda Fields in "The Pasadena Star-News": "Geraldine Brooks was born in Australia. She was a correspondent for 'The Wall Street Journal' in Bosnia, Somalia, and the Middle East. She is able to bring a first-hand knowledge of the horror of war and how people react in those circumstances to this hypnotic book. Even when the story was its most excruciating, there was never any doubt that I wanted -- no, needed -- to know what would happen next."
Danielle Torres on the "Work in Progress" weblog: "The chapters alternate and with each chapter we discover what actually happened to the manuscript -- the hands it passed through to those who created it. It's all very creatively presented, and it seems that Brooks has certainly done her research well. Oftentimes in novels like these one period or plotline will dominate the other, but I was quite content with both the story set in the present and the individual pieces of the story in the past. I found it all interesting -- not ever wishing I could hurry on to a more exciting part of the story."
Susan G. Cole in "Now" magazine: "Book conservation sounds like a snore as a fiction theme, but Geraldine Brooks makes it totally fascinating in People Of The Book...But the minutiae of the art of conservation, conveyed in ways that make you want to take up the trade yourself, are what set this book apart. Who knew those people holed up in national archives were this interesting?"
The "Bantering Biblocrat" weblog: "Some have called this a erudite DaVinci Code, and while that case can certainly be made, this is first and foremost a work of literature, albeit one that's also a page-turner. Its portrayal of communities and setting is evocative, whether in the Seville of 1480 or in the late 20th century Australian outback, and the character development is extraordinary. People of the Book is a beautifully-told, captivating literary work that reveals much about the power of the written word."

And those not so sure:

Felicity Plunkett in "The Age": "Hannah's Australianness felt, to me, slightly anachronistic, or confected, or perhaps made with an eye to the international audience the Australian-born, US-based Brooks no doubt commands...In other respects, Brooks' characterisation is remarkable. Her ability to evoke the conflicts that tear at an otherwise-devout Rabbi, or the altruism of resistance in, for example, a young Muslim wife in Sarajevo in the 1940s, is exceptional...Brooks' ability to take an initial inspiration and weave from fact a vibrant fiction situates it within the rich seams of 'faction', increasingly frequent in contemporary writing."
Michael Upchurch in "The Seattle Times": "Brooks may be spelling out her message a little too explicitly here, and the way her imagined histories interlock can be a tad too schematic. But she does a sterling job of reminding readers how art objects -- no matter how damaged or fragile -- link epoch to epoch and world to world, putting the conflicts and follies of our own time into context."

Related material:

Philologos, in "The Jewish Daily", discusses the roots of the word "Haggadah", using Brooks's novel as a starting point.

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This page contains a single entry by Perry Middlemiss published on March 12, 2008 10:35 AM.

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