Geraldine Brooks Watch #5

Reviews of People of the Book

Nancy Wigston in "The Toronto Star": "Brooks's major challenge remains the existence of a book that ought not to exist but stubbornly does. She allows herself considerable leeway -- rooted in history and logic, it must be said -- when it comes to her account of its creation: extraordinary storytelling meets extraordinary reality...In our world, 'no one expects the Spanish Inquisition' evokes the famous Monty Python sketch. But Brooks shows that for considerable chunks of time in Europe, many did expect the torturers...Brooks opens windows onto forgotten worlds, matching her stories to historical truths. Throughout, the survival of the Sarajevo Haggadah speaks with its own thunderous eloquence."

On the "Green Chair Press" weblog: "I am amazed by the amount of research that Brooks must have done to write her book. There's lots of information about bookbinding and conservation, as well as an incredible amount of historical detail. The adventures of the main, present-day narrator, Hanna, are awfully contrived, but the interspersed stories imagining the history of the Haggadah are much better. Certainly reading it was a fine way to spend a lazy Saturday afternoon!"


Jessica Yadegaran on the "PopMatters" website.

The reader can't help but try to compare Brooks to her heroine, Heath, who is a feisty and ambitious Australian, but sexually reckless and estranged from family. Save for nationality and passion for their work, however, the women have nothing in common, Brooks says. The author struggled with the character's cultural identity, and originally wanted the conservator to be Bosnian, because she loves the way Sarajevans express themselves - with a kind of "world-weary, mordant wit."

But the Aussie in Heath eventually spoke to Brooks. "It was a voice that I was completely confident with," she says. "She immediately turned up in my imagination and compelled the story. Her character told me how she would act, and that was much more take-charge than perhaps my Bosnian conservator would have been."

Kelly Hewitt on the "Loaded Questions" weblog.
Kelly Hewitt:Are there other instances from your career as a reporter in which you found inspiration for a fictional novel amidst such a tumultuous reality?

Geraldine Brooks:All of my novels, one way or another, relate to my years as a reporter. Sometimes it's an idea that I came across while on assignment, as is the case with the Sarajevo Haggadah and People of the Book. But both People of the Book and March contain episodes that draw on my experiences covering the news. For instance, the scene where Isak and Ina fall through the ice is a fictional translation of a tragic event that happened to two refugees during the flight of the Kurds from Iraq when their uprising was crushed. More broadly,witnessing individuals who have to undergo real change during a time of catastrophe -- particularly women who find themselves forced to assume huge burdens and responsibilities that their earlier life hadn't prepared them for -- has inspired the way I invent characters who change a great deal in the course of the narrative.

You can also listen to a radio interview with the author from station KCRW, and watch a video interview on Australia's Channel Nine.

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This page contains a single entry by Perry Middlemiss published on April 14, 2008 10:28 AM.

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