The Sarajevo Haggadah, an illuminated manuscript containing traditional Passover text, has had an amazing life. It survived the Spanish Inquisition, it was housed for years under the floorboards of either a mosque or the home of a Muslim cleric, it narrowly escaped the Nazis during World War II, and it managed to fare well during the recent Bosnian War. It is the story of this beautifully illustrated religious text that captured the imagination of Geraldine Brooks while in Sarajevo covering the Bosnian War as a foreign correspondent for the Wall Street Journal. In People of the Book, Brooks tells a fictionalized tale of the Sarajevo Haggadah. Hanna Heath, an Australian book conservator, is called to analyze and aid in conservation of the ancient work. Scouring the pages, she finds minute whispers of the past: an insect wing, a white hair, wine stains; each holds a tale of the keepers of the text. As she investigates the text in the approximate present (the book opens in 1996), the narrative travels about in time and ownership, from a Muslim librarian in Sarajevo who hides the book from Nazis, to Venice where a priest saves it from the fires, to Barcelona in 1492, and later to its origins in Seville where the book's illuminations are truly illuminated. Geraldine Brooks, who won a Pulitzer for The March, a tale of the life of Mr. March, the absent father in Louisa May Alcott's Little Women, manages to capture the details of language, time, and preservation in a way that is as pleasurable as it is informative and thought-provoking. Call 952.473.8341 for more info.
Thu., Jan. 24, 7 p.m., 2008