Wednesday, July 23, 2008

People of the Book - That's Us Readers!

Now I fully understand why Geraldine Brooks received a Pulitzer even though I didn't read The March! While the subject matter of that particular book didn't appeal to me ( I may have to go back and rethink that decision ) I have read The Wonder Years and her non-fiction book Nine Parts of Desire. The People of the Book has me rapt. Lucky Andrea grabbed it for our upcoming book discussion season but I'd love to participate if the schedule allows.

Since I've never been a huge fan of historical fiction, I'm especially appreciative of an author who is able to take a contemporary novel and weave history into it without being heavy handed. While the central character here is the wise-cracking, thirty-something, Aussie book conservator, called to Sarajevo to oversee the restoration of an ancient Haggadah damaged in the bombing, the true heroes are the characters throughout history who saved the book from thieves, vandals, and even the Inquisition! The tiny clues to its origins, that Hanna uncovers in the book's binding, lead readers on a glorious trip back in time via Austria, Italy and Spain.

The challenge for the book group will be to appreciate this book on multiple levels. The sins that have been commited in the name of religion go deep and wide and all faiths have been complicit. This is not, contrary to what our politicians tell us, a new conflict. Brooks finds light and dark in Christians, Muslims and Jews, all people of the same book, as they interact with the book at the heart of the outstanding novel.

What else am I reading? I know my posts can get to be too long. Mp3 holds a bunch of great stuff I can't wait to get to. Right now I'm listening to Skeletons at the Feast, Bohjlian's latest and another one that Andrea will be discussing this season. What, you might ask am I discussing? I'll save that for another time.

In the car I have a fabulous, old-fashioned cold war thriller called Devil May Care by one of my favorite authors, Sebastian Faulks (Charlotte Gray, On Green Dolphin Street). It seems that he has taken it upon himself to continue the Ian Fleming 007 series and he does it quite cleverly. It's witty and fun and, since I'm listening, the natty British accent of the reader, John Lee, compliments the story to perfection. I'm not sure if Fleming's family or estate tapped Faulks to do this or if he just thought it would be fun. Seems like the 007 character might be copyrighted. I found an interview at Amazon if you want the full scoop.


George Rabasa said...

Good points on the uses of historical fiction. I subscribe to the notion that all fiction is "historic" the moment it's published. It's a product of its time, and that is one of its gifts to the reader. From Gilgamesh to Don Quijote to Gatsby to Rabbit Run -- their time comes alive for us. The problem with Historical fiction as a genre is that it too often indulges in frothy period window dressing at the expense of the basics -- character development, conflict, moral dilemma, and just plain story.
Oh yeah...thanks for the plug!

Ruth said...

As a historian, I'm always amazed that someone can take the dry dull facts of history and weave a story around them that actually makes a reader want to learn more. Ellis Goodman does a really great job of it in Bear Any Burden, his new novel about Europe in the Cold War. Rather than use historical backgrounds as a window dressing, as George suggests in his comment, Goodman uses them as an integral part of his character development and it really drives the story. My hat's off to any author who can do this and keep the reader turning the pages.