People of the Book
The Viking Press, 2008
372 pp., $25.95
Reviewed by Lauren F. Winner
People of the Book succeeds so brilliantly as historical fiction, then, because it plunges us sensibly into distant, alien pasts, and it presses concerns that are still very much with us today. (Indeed, at moments People of the Book seems a little too presentist—the last chapter, which explains why an African woman appears in one of the haggadah's illustrations and clenches the argument for Islamic influence on the haggadah's art, has the same feel of unreality as did the final chapter of Year of Wonders, in which the narrator, a widowed housekeeper, leaves her small town in medieval England, moves to Algeria, learns to read Avicenna in Arabic, is tutored in the arts of medicine, and raises her baby in a harem.)
Brooks has vividly recreated the carnage that results when those in power refuse to recognize the humanity of their neighbors. People of the Book forces us to confront a history that is not so distant, and it invites us to speculate about whether we are any less tribal, less fearful, less hate–mongering, and less inclined toward tragic violence today.
Lauren F. Winner is an assistant professor at Duke Divinity School.
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