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People of the Book
By Geraldine Brooks, Viking; $25.95
The former war correspondent has never shrunk from dramatic, sweeping source material—the plague, in Year of Wonders; the Civil War, in her Pulitzer Prize–winning March; and, in this latest, most complicated novel, an actual 600-year-old Passover primer that barely survived destruction many times (at least twice thanks to Muslims). Brooks finds her framing device in a flinty Aussie rare-book analyst, whose clues lead to CSI-style re-creations of the narrow escapes of the “Sarajevo Haggadah” from Nazi-occupied Bosnia, seventeenth-century Venice, and Inquisition-era Spain, where we finally glimpse its surprising origins. The research is formidable, the stories are smoothly interwoven, and Hanna Heath is a believably tough cookie with some secrets of her own. Yet Brooks doesn’t quite overcome a tendency toward historical melodrama and mushy diversity clichés. As a result, the book of the title comes off as resplendent, engrossing, and multifaceted—the people, somewhat less so.
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