Geraldine Brooks’ People of the Book


People of the book by Geraldine Brooks | LibraryThing

Brooks, G., & OverDrive, Inc. (2008). People of the book: A novel. New York, N.Y: Viking. 9781429591065

Reasons for Reading : As I sought eAudio, I stumbled upon Geraldine Brooks’ People of the Book. While I enjoyed listening to the book, I realized I wouldn’t be able to finish listening to it before it was due. Thus, I checked out the eBook and downloaded it to my Nook.

Summary: Australian rare-book expert Hanna Heath receives an outstanding offer: to analyze and conserve the Sarajevo Haggadah when it’s recovered in 1996 during the Bosnian War. The Sarajevo Haggadah is one of the earliest Jewish texts to have illustrations. Quickly, Hanna finds peculiarities about the book – a wing of an insect, wine stains, salt crystals, a white hair, and missing clasps. While Hanna examines this priceless piece of history, the reader goes on a journey in reverse chronological order – making stops in 1940s Sarajevo, 1894 Vienna, 1609 Venice, 1492 Tarragona, and 1480 Seville, visiting the people who physically impacted the Haggadah.

What I Liked : Author Brooks spins and weaves a fascinating saga. These people of the book elicit a broad range of emotions from me. I liked that Hanna seemed to unite everyone in her work with the Haggadah and I appreciated that she spoke directly to the reader whereas the other sections of the story were told in the third person. Hanna did have values and adhered to them even when it hurt her. I pitied her when it came to her relationship with her mother and that she had no clue about her father’s identity. I learned much about Haggadahs and Jewish history in Europe.

What I Disliked : So, Hanna wasn’t the only one telling the story in first person. This was confusing to me and I believe Brooks did this to mislead the reader. Also, some of the characters that I imagine were supposed to be sympathetic were not. When I didn’t care about the characters, the book dragged. Sometimes, the details were gratuitous and Brooks seemed to come across as magnanimous in her “We’re all in this together” theme.

Four Out of Five Pearls

Song: The Kingston Trio – Where have all the flowers gone? – YouTube

Setting : Australia, Sarajevo, Germany, Vienna, Venice,  Boston, Tarragona Spain, Seville, Jerusalem

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For more on Geraldine Brooks’ People of the Book, check out the following sites:

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Tatiana de Rosnay’s Sarah’s Key


Sarah's Key by Tatiana de Rosnay | LibraryThing

Rosnay, T. . (2010). Sarah’s key. New York: St. Martin’s Griffin. 9781250004345

Reasons for Reading : I recalled my mom reading this book a few years before the movie hit American theaters. Also, working on my library’s contribution to the Holocaust Museum Houston’s Butterfly Project led me to Sarah’s Key. I checked out the book from HCPL.

Summary: Beginning in Nazi-occupied Paris in 1942, the French police arrest a ten year-old girl and her family in the Vel’ d’Hiv Roundup. The girl manages to lock her younger brother in a secret cupboard in the family’s apartment. She promises to return in a few hours.

The girl’s story alternates with that Julia Jarmond, an American journalist living in 2002 Paris with her French husband and daughter. Her editor asks her to write an article commemorating the sixtieth anniversary of the Vel d’Hiv Roundup. As Julia investigates, she stumbles upon a fateful connection to Sarah, that little girl who stowed her brother in the secret cupboard. This link may lead to better living for Julia or the undoing of her marriage.

What I Liked : Author de Rosnay created rich characters in Sarah and Julia. The latter narrated her of the novel and de Rosnay conveyed the thoughts of an American outcast quite authentically. Sarah’s point of view was related in third person.

I adored Jules and Genevieve. These people offer hope for humanity. They’re the sort that deserve Nobel Peace Prizes.

Also, I found it sobering to learn the French police’s involvement in the Holocaust. It just shows how far brainwashing can go.

What I Disliked : This story made me very sad. Obviously, the key issues weren’t the happiest. I promise that I went into reading this book with my eyes open.

The first part of the book alternated between Sarah’s 1942 and Julia’s 2002. Then, the second part of the book didn’t. Without revealing the end, I wasn’t too keen on losing one of those points of view.

Before I forget, Julia’s husband was horrendous!

Four Out of Five Pearls

Song: Linkin Park – In The End – YouTube

Setting : Paris, France, Germany, Poland, New York City, Boston, Italy

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For more on Tatiana de Rosnay’s Sarah’s Key, check out the following sites:

 

Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows’ The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society


The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer | LibraryThing

Shaffer, M. A., & Barrows, A. (2008). The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. New York, N.Y: The Dial Press. 9780385340991

One friend of mine noticed this most curious title on the NYT Bestsellers list. The name compelled her to request the book via HCPL and read it. She recommended it highly for two years. So, this summer, I requested it myself. The book was a collaborative effort between the late Mary Ann Shaffer and her niece Annie Barrows.

Shaffer and Barrows tell their tale through correspondence; this is an epistolary novel. The letters begin in early 1946. London writer Juliet Ashton receives a letter from Dawsey Adams from the Channel Islands, Guernsey to be exact. Dawsey is the current owner of a Charles Lamb book which once belonged to Juliet. Their correspondence leads to discussion of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, a book club which met on Guernsey Island during the German Occupation. Through many letters, Juliet discovers the light of literature and new friends.

While I felt the book slow in the beginning, I soon found myself riveted. I enjoyed several of the characters and I loved how the authors allowed the characters to speak for themselves. Juliet was my favorite character. At a point fairly early in the book, Juliet requests references from two people – a man who will sing her praises and a woman who will expose all of Juliet’s warts. Juliet’s spirit leapt from the pages. While this takes place after World War II in England, negativity and bleakness are part of the picture. However, these people rise above this and look forward to their brighter futures. 

So, when’s the movie coming to a theater near me?

Four of Five Pearls

Song: ‪Mr Postman – the Marvelettes High Quality‬‏ – YouTube

Setting : Guernsey, Channel Islands, London, England, France, Germany

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  •  Atonement by Ian McEwan
  • The Reader by Bernhard Schlink
  • The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver
  • Dear Mr. Henshaw by Beverly Cleary

For more on Shaffer and Barrows’ The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, please check out the following links:

Bernhard Schlink’s The Reader


* A 1001 Books Book

Schlink, B. (1998). The reader. New York: Vintage Books. 9780679781301

The Reader by Bernhard Schlink | WorldCat

I spotted a copy of this slim book on the Friends of Freeman Library bookshelf. Moving quickly, I managed to buy it. Despite what I previously heard about the heavy topics, I rapidly finished this book.

Divided into three parts and told in the first person narrative form, Part I begins in West Germany in 1958 when fifteen year old Michael Berg becomes gravely ill on his way home from school. Thirty-six year old tram conductor Miss Schmitz sees him and plays the Good Samaritan by hosing down his shoes and guiding him down the road. Michael finds his way home, where he convalesces from hepatitis. His father, a philosophy professor, and his mother keep him from leaving home. When he’s well again, Mrs. Berg sends Michael with a bouquet to Miss Schmitz’s door to show his appreciation, discovering he’s drawn to her. Miss Schmitz catches him watching her dress and Michael runs from her place. However, Michael returns to Miss Schmitz’s apartment, helps her with lugging coal, and becomes covered with coal dust. Miss Schmitz insists Michael bathe and when he does, Miss Schmitz seduces him. A love affair ensues as Michael settles into a routine of visiting her apartment – bathing, having sex, and reading. Michael reads aloud to Miss Schmitz, who in turn, reveals her first name to be Hanna. So, Michael reads classics such as The Odyssey and War and Peace to his lover. During their affair, they don’t talk much about their lives and Hanna becomes morose and abusive at times. After a few months of this, Hanna disappears. Michael develops into a sullen heel himself.

In Part II, as a law student in 1965, Michael and his classmates observe a war crimes trial. Former female Schutzstaffel (SS) guards are on trial for the deaths of 300 Jewish prisoners. One of these guards just happens to be Hanna, Michael’s former lover. Even more perplexing is the fact that Hanna, unlike the other women on trial, refuses to defend what she did as an SS guard. Then, Michael understands that Hanna is hiding an even darker secret. Michael faces the dilemma of letting Hanna “hang herself” for the crime or to reveal what would set her free.

Part III holds the conclusion, taking place in the 1990s. Herein, Michael comes to terms with his relationship with Hanna and choices they’ve made. Without spoiling the book, all I’ll say is that he seeks absolution.

What an austere little book! The sparse prose and clipped tone of the work seemed in perfect accord with the Michael Berg’s thoughts. Also, The Reader delves into the psyche of a rich inner world and thought life – read cerebral. Another element worth noting, Michael’s rather miserly when it comes to labeling people. For example, he never offer names for his parents nor his siblings. Then, he doesn’t name the survivors who bring about Hanna’s trial. Simply, Michael bestows names upon few.

Schlink portrays the intimacy of the two German generations – the Nazi participants (willing/unwilling) and the post-War youth who desire to rectify their fore bearers’ mistakes. He shows precisely the grayness that contemporary analysts find polarizing. No matter how much Michael’s generation wants to wipe the slate clean, none of us should forget. Michael even recognizes how his own father, a philosopher who focuses on Kant and Hegel, inadvertently supported the Nazi cause by writing hiker’s guides. They are inseparable.

Another remarkable theme is ignorance versus knowledge. Enlightenment leads not just to better ways to make a living for oneself, it also opens the path to better decisions.

Then, there’s the intertextuality – the complex relationship between a text and other texts taken as basic to the creation or interpretation of the text (Merriam Webster 2011). Michael’s literary selection came from Enlightenment Era.

Lastly, there’s the prevailing theme of humanity. Part III sees to a purposefulness in Michael that Part II seems to lack. Here, the titular Reader becomes enlightened and compassionate.

Four Out of Five Pearls

Song: YouTube – Nicole Atkins – Together We Are Both Alone – Live Troubadour

Places : Germany, Poland, The United States

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For more on Bernhard Schlink’s The Reader, check out the following sites: