by Geraldine Brooks
A woman working in the very specialized field of book conservation is brought into Sarajevo to study and write a report on a very rare, ancient Jewish book called a haggadah. She finds bits and fragments of things within the binding and pages- a piece of insect wing, a grain of salt, a single hair, a dark stain and so on. These fragments get taken in turn to other specialists who can reveal something about their nature, and from that historical fiction is spun about where the book came from, where it had traveled, who held on to it and how it changed hands. This book had high promise for me, but I got bored and then disgusted with it. The character of the conservator became annoying. And her constant affairs with colleagues. And her nasty relationship with her mother. After fifty pages I began skimming. At first I was reading the present-day portions (still interested in the details of preserving very old books) and more or less skipping the historical parts which quickly became dense with history too light on character development- I simply could not become interested in any of them. The first piece about a young woman who joins resistant forces hiding in the mountains during the Bosnian war, held me. The second one, about some depraved people (equally desperate) in Vienna, did not. That\’s when I started just thumbing through. I did pick up again the final historical chapter about the actual illustrator, way back in ancient times, the description of the immense labor and time it took to create such beautiful pages was interesting, the constant drama and liaisons were not. Then I started reading the current narrative again and instantly lost focus when it turned into a mystery and crime scene at the end. I didn\’t want to be reading that kind of story. And I\’m not, anymore. Moving on.
Abandoned 372 pages, 2008