Geraldine Brooks Watch #6

Short Reviews of People of the Book

Paul on "The Journal of a Good Life" weblog: "This book gets really tedious; fast. There is just so much I (or you) want to know about the history of this Haggadah and book making."
Tracey O'Shaughnessy on the "The Republican-American" weblog: "What makes this book so riveting is the same revivification of history that Brooks managed in March and Year of Wonders. She conveys not only the historical atmosphere of 19th-century Vienna, but also creates deeply flawed, and yet heroic individuals."
On the "las risas" weblog: " I'm not sure why, but I just couldn't get very involved in this novel at all. There was a lot of publicity for it, and I saw it in basically every bookstore I passed until I bought a copy in Borders. It just couldn't keep my attention -- I finished several other books while in the middle of reading this one."
"The Daily Grin" weblog: "Librarians, of course, are one particular type of 'people of the book.' If you are one of the 'people of the book,' in whatever sense you take that to mean, then you will certainly enjoy this latest novel..."


Shona Crabtree on the "Religion Writer" website considers People of the Book to be "A sweeping narrative set in multiple locations with a myriad cast of characters". The interview follows.

Crabtree: What is your religious background and how did that inform your tackling of religion in the novel? Brooks: Such a long story! I was raised in an Irish Catholic tradition. My mother's family were pretty recent Irish immigrant stock, and our neighborhood was predominantly Catholic. So it was Catholicism of a very traditional, baroque kind with incense and lace mantillas and Children of Mary in blue cloaks. You know, the whole shmear. And then I kind of, as a teenager, fell out of love with the church over the role of women. At that point, I felt the whole thing was a big plot to deny women's autonomy and to keep people contented with a pretty unjust social system because they were going to get their rewards in the afterlife. So I just kind of washed my hands of the whole thing, cruised through about a decade and a half as a happy atheist. But then when I was about to get married to a Jew, the whole business of Jewish history that had so absorbed me all my life started to impose its imperative on me. That I didn't want to be the end of the line for his family's long heritage that had survived the sack by the Romans and the Inquisition and the pogroms of Russia and the shoah. So I converted to Judaism at that point more as an act of historical solidarity than perhaps religious belief. Crabtree: Once you converted, has that changed your spirituality in any way? Brooks: I'm a praying atheist if that makes any sense. (laughs)
Ellen Birkett Morris on Authorlink.
"I honestly can't say why I saw a novel in it when others before me hadn't," said Brooks, whose earlier works of historical fiction explored the effects of the bubonic plague on a small English village in the seventeenth century and the devastation and moral complexities of the Civil War as seen though the eyes of a fictional chaplain. "For me fact based fiction gives me a scaffolding for imagination to rest on. I let the story drive the research rather than the other way around. First I research to hear voices of the period I'm writing about, until one starts speaking clearly to me. The voice tells me who the character is, and that tells me what she'll do. That drives the plot, and then I know what I need to know...," said Brooks. She believes her background as a journalist aids her as a writer. "As a journalist you learn to write under almost any circumstances,and you don't have the luxury of waiting on the muse. Even though fiction is very different, it helps to be able to bang out a draft of something even on your worst days. Then at least you've got something to come back to and work on," noted Brooks.
Madeleine Coorey on France 24.
"I heard about the haggadah when it was missing and its fate was completely uncertain," she told AFP on the sidelines of Australia's premier literary festival in Adelaide last month.

"And it kind of, I guess, was banging around in my head and then when it was revealed it had been saved from the bombing by a Muslim librarian it kind of meshed with something else I had been thinking about for a long time which was the place of illuminators in the medieval period.

"The illuminator of the Sarajevo haggadah was my starting point of telling the story. And it all just went from there." But she says there's no temptation to combine the real-life accuracy of the journalist with the imagination of the novelist and package it as non-fiction. "I don't like faction," she said.


A reprint of the Sarajevo Haggadah, the subject of Brooks's latest novel, has been unveiled in the Bosnian's capital's national theatre. You can read an essay by Brooks about the historical background to her novel published in "The New Yorker". It deals with the "Chronicles about Muslim librarian Dervis Korkut's heroism in Sarajevo during World War II."
"A Novel Woman" reviews Year of Wonders: "Now, I love historical novels as a rule, but I wasn't sure I would be able to get into one subtitled 'A Novel of the Plague' however well written it was rumoured to be. Well, I started it early one Saturday morning, and spent the day in my nightgown, unwilling and unable to put the book down long enough to get dressed. That's how good it is. It's not a big book - I finished it that evening -- but it is like a Faberge egg, tiny and perfect. It is exquisitely written, and Brooks has a knack for language that draws you into the time and suspends you there."

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This page contains a single entry by Perry Middlemiss published on June 3, 2008 11:05 AM.

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