People of the Book

People of the BookPeople of the Book by Geraldine Brooks

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Well, I have to get this off my chest first of all: do not get the audiobook! I got through it, but I would have enjoyed it much more without the narrator’s very annoying accents that made every foreigner (except Australian) sound stupid and drunken. Do Hebrew/Yiddish speakers really pronounce every single English word beginning with H as aspirated? I also had a very hard time following each shift backwards in time. I’m not sure that would have been easier in a print version. I simply could not get an overall picture of the travels of this remarkable haggadah (the telling of the Passover story) from place to place, and owner to owner. Much of that is probably supposition. I did enjoy the individual vignettes of each time period. I also liked the description of the modern-day researcher, Hanna Heath, as she puzzled over the tiny artifacts found in the manuscript. However, the other side-plots did nothing for me. The love story went nowhere. The relationship with her mother went no where. A good book, but I have read better ones from Geraldine Brooks.

Book Description: Inspired by a true story, People of the Book is a novel of sweeping historical grandeur and intimate emotional intensity by an acclaimed and beloved author. Called “a tour de force” by the San Francisco Chronicle, this ambitious, electrifying work traces the harrowing journey of the famed Sarajevo Haggadah, a beautifully illuminated Hebrew manuscript created in fifteenth-century S pain. When it falls to Hanna Heath, an Australian rare-book expert, to conserve this priceless work, the series of tiny artifacts she discovers in its ancient binding-an insect wing fragment, wine stains, salt crystals, a white hair-only begin to unlock its deep mysteries and unexpectedly plunges Hanna into the intrigues of fine art forgers and ultra-nationalist fanatics.

The Book Thief

The Book ThiefThe Book Thief by Markus Zusak

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is the coming of age story of a young girl growing up in Nazi Germany during World War II, narrated by Death himself. Although dark and tragic, it is also filled with humor and compassion. It is a story about the power of words both to hurt and to heal, to divide as well as to create community. Death is no sentimental narrator, presenting humans as they are with all their contradictions, capable of both great kindness and great cruelty. The language is almost poetic at times, and there are many scenes and images that will stay with me for a long time. Not a book to be forgotten as soon as it is put down.

Book Description: It’s just a small story really, about among other things: a girl, some words, an accordionist, some fanatical Germans, a Jewish fist-fighter, and quite a lot of thievery. . . .

Set during World War II in Germany, Markus Zusak’s groundbreaking new novel is the story of Liesel Meminger, a foster girl living outside of Munich. Liesel scratches out a meager existence for herself by stealing when she encounters something she can’t resist – books. With the help of her accordion-playing foster father, she learns to read and shares her stolen books with her neighbors during bombing raids as well as with the Jewish man hidden in her basement before he is marched to Dachau.

This is an unforgettable story about the ability of books to feed the soul.

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Night  Night by Elie Wiesel

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’m doing a booktalk for the Friends of the Library on Saturday. Thought I’d build the talk around Tolstoy’s War and Peace (which I still intend to finish reading some day!) and then expand on all the World War II books that have come out lately like Suite Francaise, The Guernsey Literary…Society, Sarah’s Key, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, The Book Thief, etc. This one is a staple of high school required reading lists, and it is short but eloquent. I listened to the book on CD which included the new preface and Wiesel’s acceptance speech on winning the Nobel Peace Prize. I was especially struck by this comment in the preface: “I am not so naive as to believe that this slim volume will change the course of history or shake the conscience of the world. Books no longer have the power they once did.” Is that true? – Surely books still have the power to change and/or to inspire individuals. That book for me growing up was Vinzi by Johanna Spyri about a boy overcoming his father’s disapproval and prejudice to follow his dream of becoming a musician, and of the power of music to heal lives. But I digress…
Do you agree? Have books lost their power in today’s world?

Description: Night is Elie Wiesel’s masterpiece, a candid, horrific, and deeply poignant autobiographical account of his survival as a teenager in the Nazi death camps. This new translation by Marion Wiesel, Elie’s wife and frequent translator, presents this seminal memoir in the language and spirit truest to the author’s original intent. And in a substantive new preface, Elie reflects on the enduring importance of Night and his lifelong, passionate dedication to ensuring that the world never forgets man’s capacity for inhumanity to man.

Night offers much more than a litany of the daily terrors, everyday perversions, and rampant sadism at Auschwitz and Buchenwald; it also eloquently addresses many of the philosophical as well as personal questions implicit in any serious consideration of what the Holocaust was, what it meant, and what its legacy is and will be.

Sarah’s Key

Sarah's KeySarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A lovely book about a woman’s obsession with the Jewish family forced from their home in the Vel’ d’Hiv roundup. And the girl, Sarah, who survived and whose life story became entwined with her husband’s family in Paris. As she puts together the pieces of this shattered woman’s life, her own marriage is falling apart. Family secrets uncovered have the power both to hurt and to heal… This book is also a tribute to the 76,000 Jews deported from France to the death camps. Zakhor, Al Tichkah. Remember. Never forget.


Paris, July 1942: Sarah, a ten year-old girl, is brutally arrested with her family by the French police in the Vel’ d’Hiv’ roundup, but not before she locks her younger brother in a cupboard in the family’s apartment, thinking that she will be back within a few hours.

Paris, May 2002: On Vel’ d’Hiv’s 60th anniversary, journalist Julia Jarmond is asked to write an article about this black day in France’s past. Through her contemporary investigation, she stumbles onto a trail of long-hidden family secrets that connect her to Sarah. Julia finds herself compelled to retrace the girl’s ordeal, from that terrible term in the Vel d’Hiv’, to the camps, and beyond. As she probes into Sarah’s past, she begins to question her own place in France, and to reevaluate her marriage and her life. Tatiana de Rosnay offers us a brilliantly subtle, compelling portrait of France under occupation and reveals the taboos and silence that surround this painful episode.