People of the Book is the story of Hanna Heath an Australian rare book expert specializing in Medieval Hebrew manuscripts. She is tasked by the UN to preserve and conserve the Sarajevo Haggadah, a book with gorgeous illuminations and telling the story of the Passover Haggadah, that has a past as storied and arduous as the Jewish people themselves. The book was created in Spain in the 14th or 15th century and then smuggled out in the Jewish expulsion in 1492, it then resurfaced in Sarajevo during the bombings of the Bosnian War in 1992 where it magically survived the bombing of the museum it was housed in. Hanna is called in admits all the artillery fire to work on the manuscript. While investigating it she finds some interesting things including an insect wing, a white hair, wine stains, saltwater, and missing clasps. She investigates further and learns not only about the books history but about those people who created and helped save the book over its 500 years.
The book was a really good piece of historical fiction. Everything is purely fictional but like all good historical fiction is rooted in fact. The book actually existed and the author based most of the people and trials of the book on what real historians believe actually happened. For example the book really was miraculously saved during the bombing of Sarajevo and historians believe it was hidden from Nazis in a mosque in the mountains thanks to a brave librarian. I did sometimes have to remind myself that it is fiction as I wondered how Hanna knew such minute details about these people and their connections to the book. But then I guess that is a good sign in a fiction piece that it makes its readers believe this really happened. Plus I learned a lot about the trials and tribulations of the Jewish people during the modern era.
The book goes back and forth with past and present which can be a little confusing, but this was not. It flowed well. Every time Hanna learned a new fact about a strange thing she found out about the book there was a section outlining its significance. It was pretty short and engrossing and I read it relatively quick (although I can’t remember when I started it so I guess it may have taken me awhile). My only criticism is that there was a pretty needless story about Hanna and her parents. Not that I don’t care about her and her life but I wanted to learn about the book and this stuff just felt like filler, but it didn’t take me out of the story completely and it was really good regardless.