I've had this book on my to-read list for a long time, 3 years or so, but it was one of those books that I didn't really think that I would ever really get to. A 'lifer'. I'd read Brooks' Year of Wonders
back in 2008, and I liked it, but about 4 years has passed now, and the more I read in those intervening years, the more I came to feel like it wasn't really all that impressive, after all. I especially feel that way after finishing People of the Book
. The writing in YOW just doesn't even hold a candle to the writing in POTB. It's a beautifully written, moving book, and I'm sorry that I put off reading it for so long.
I will say that there were parts of POTB that felt too modern for the historical sections, and even too "British" (mainly because the 'could/should/would have done' phrase sticks out like a sore thumb to me), and I thought that the romantic interest was awkward and didn't really ever sit right with me, but aside from those two things, I couldn't really find anything to criticize in this book.
I read for pleasure, and this book drew me in. I thought it was a fantastic melding of history, bibliophilia, socio-political issues, and life. I thought the characters were interesting, and even though most of them were only bit-players, I never actually felt like that's what they were while reading. They had history, and depth, and personality, and I very much enjoyed reading their stories, even when they were disturbing or heartbreaking.
But mostly, I loved this book for the story of the haggadah itself. I loved the way that the history of the book unfolded, with each clue to its journey through the years being shown as a story in itself, moving backwards in time until the origin of the book is shown. The historical sections were wonderful - they all felt completely real, although they were all horrifying as well, especially the 1492 Inquisition section.
I remember studying the Inquisition in school, and somehow it never really conveyed just how fucked up that shit was. That's probably why we never learn anything. We sanitize history to the point where it's completely lost all meaning, so we just keep doing the same shit over and over. We're still killing each other over differences in opinion regarding which religion is "right", or because a man dares to love another man and want to share his life with him, or because someone's skin is the wrong color, or because... we're just fucking bored and hate-filled. For fuck's sake. When will we grow up?
"You've got a society where people tolerate difference[...] and everything's humming along: creative, prosperous. Then somehow this fear, this hate, this need to demonize 'the other' --it just sort of rears up and smashes the whole society."
Fantastic book. I highly recommend it.