Brooks unfolds the historical puzzle

AUSTRALIAN AUTHOR Geraldine Brooks admits her latest book, with its drunken priest, gambling rabbi and Muslim librarian, is rather "like the set-up of a very bad joke."­

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Published: Sun 13 Apr 2008, 10:24 AM

Last updated: Sun 5 Apr 2015, 2:43 PM

But the Pulitzer prize-winning writer has tackled the decidedly unfunny subjects of war, genocide and religious intolerance in 'People of the Book,' an historical puzzle dedicated to librarians and likened to the 'Da Vinci Code.'­

Like Dan Brown's blockbuster, 'People of the Book' is a fictional imagining which fills in the blanks of a historical and religious mystery —in this case the story of a medieval Hebrew manuscript known as the Sarajevo haggadah.­

The centuries-old Jewish book has survived the Spanish Inquisition and twice been saved from destruction by courageous Muslim librarians in its namesake city —once from the Nazis and again during the bombing of the city in the 1990s.­

But how the 600-year-old illuminated manuscript arrived in Sarajevo, and why it seemingly reflects a Christian influence and carries a drawing of what appears to be a Moorish, and thus Muslim woman has long intrigued scholars.­

Brooks, who turned to historical novel writing after a career as a war correspondent, used these few facts to build her own story of how the little book survived and has dedicated it to librarians everywhere.­

"I heard about the haggadah when it was missing and its fate was completely uncertain," she told AFP on the sidelines of Australia's premier literary festival in Adelaide last month.­ "And it kind of, I guess, was banging around in my head and then when it was revealed it had been saved from the bombing by a Muslim librarian it kind of meshed with something else I had been thinking about for a long time which was the place of illuminators in the medieval period.­

"The illuminator of the Sarajevo haggadah was my starting point of telling the story. And it all just went from there."­

But she says there's no temptation to combine the real-life accuracy of the journalist with the imagination of the novelist and package it as non-fiction.­

"I don't like faction," she said.­

"If it's described as a work of non-fiction then everything in it bloody better well be true as far as I'm concerned."



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