People of the Book, Geraldine Brooks, Viking, 2008, 368 pp
The first book I read which was published this year was a fantastic read. Geraldine Brooks has become a good fiction writer, each book being better than the last. In this novel I had none of my former beefs with her; in fact I can barely remember what they were.
Hanna Heath, a young book expert with a troubled emotional past, gets called to Sarajevo to analyze and conserve an ancient Hebrew manuscript. From that beginning follows an explication of the manuscript's history as well as Hannah's, told in alternating chapters.
The manuscript actually exists and some of its history, dating back to 1400s Spain, is known. But all the story here is Brooks' fictional imaginings. Hanna is also a fictional character and a fairly standard modern heroine whom I happened to like and admire. She is equal parts well-trained professional and independent female with heart. In other words, my kind of woman. There are several other strong women in the ancient stories as well as admirable men and dastardly villains.
The storytelling is powerful and the theme is one of my favorites: that truth and beauty get preserved by the efforts of a few desperate humans because these things are worth preserving for the benefit of mankind. Whether mankind is worth it is a question outside the realm of fiction. In my present mood, that may be an unanswerable question or one with as many answers as there are individuals.
Meanwhile it is often storytelling that pulls us through and People of the Book is one righteous story.