Brooks, the Pulitzer-Prize winning author of March (2005), blends mystery and history in this splendid novel. At the center of the story is an actual Jewish religious work called the Sarajevo Haggadah, one of the first texts of its kind to feature illuminated images. The volume endured several centuries' worth of religious conflicts and wars due to the vigilance of a brave group of individuals, who endangered their lives in order to preserve it. This fascinating fictionalization of the Haggadah's survival features Hanna Heath, a rare-books specialist in Sarajevo who is working to restore the text. Over the course of her labors, Hanna finds that the book reveals clues about itself and its background. Through small discoveries in the volume—a wine stain, a strand of hair, some salt crystals—Hanna is able to research the text's mysteries from a scientific standpoint. But these efforts only serve to lead her deep into sinister territory. In addition to Hanna's spine-tingling discoveries about the Haggadah, readers are treated to accounts of critical incidents in its remarkable history, which are presented in the form of short, beautifully crafted chapters. The Haggadah's story is compelling in itself, yet Brooks fleshes out the narrative many clever elements of suspense and an appealing love story. Complex yet wonderfully readable, this is first-rate literary fiction.
A reading group guide is included in the book. Copyright 2009 BookPage Reviews.