Geraldine Brooks — START HERE

August 12, 2012

I’m entering Book Riot’s START HERE Write-In Giveaway in which bloggers introduce an author’s work via a suggested sequence. I’ve chosen an author whose work continues to awe me in unfathomable ways.

I happened upon Geraldine Brooks entirely by accident. I’d heard the name, but hadn’t gotten around to actually investigating any of her writing because I had more pressing books on my list.

You know how people say not to judge a book by its cover? As book people, we know that’s a load of BS. How many times have you roamed through shelves and picked up something simply because you were drawn to the cover? Well, People of the Book has a gorgeous cover, and I was intrigued by the title, so I figured I’d give it a try. Thus began my love initiation.

People of the Book

People of the Book was the first of Brooks’s works that I read, but it has remained my favorite. I find that whenever a friend, family member, or unsuspecting stranger asks me for a book recommendation, People of the Book is invariably one of the first to spring to mind. Simply put: I love the story, the characters, and Brooks’s amazing ability to weave everything together. I love this book and if you don’t, we can’t be friends.

OK, we can probably still be friends, but I will judge your book choices. A lot.

At the book’s center is the Sarajevo Haggadah, a rare, illuminated Jewish text rescued from certain destruction during the Bosnian war. In the present day, Hanna Heath is a rare book expert tasked with analyzing and conserving the Haggadah. Brooks, through her masterful storytelling, takes the reader through different periods of the book’s “life,” revealing the origins of each clue (an insect wing, a salt crystal, a wine stain, a hair) that Hanna uncovers in her delicate inventory of the book and introducing readers to other people that have been instrumental in the creation and protection of the book.

March

Remember Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women? Remember how their father was absent, off ministering to the soldiers during the war? Ever wonder what life was like for him? Well,Brooks gives us a little peek inside.

Having just recently read this, I can say that the characterization of Mr. March is intriguing, especially in later chapters and I really enjoyed the juxtaposition of the forced cheerfulness of March’s letters home with much of the rest of his observations. I also thought the later chapters when Marmee’s point of view is added, often directly contradicting March’s stated perceptions in earlier chapters, was interesting.

You don’t have to have read Little Women to enjoy March. Some familiarity is helpful, but, again, not necessary. It has been ages since I’ve read it (as in, I think someone had to read it to me the last time), but I still managed to follow along.

Year of Wonders

An infected bolt of cloth carries the plague from London to an isolated English village. Thus begins the Year of Wonders for Anna Frith, previously a housemaid, now also a healer and somewhat of a heroine as the small village deals with deaths in every household and prayers seem to go unanswered while the community collapses around her.

This book is inspired by the true story of Eyam, a village in the hill country of England. Though the characters and individual events obviously come from her imagination, the foundation upon which this story is based just adds to its ability to hook you in as a reader.

Caleb’s Crossing

There is a very particular reason I have put this at the bottom of my list. It is not because I didn’t enjoy it or think it has less merit or anything like that. Far from it. It’s at the bottom of the list because I think readers will gain more and enjoy it the most having first read more of Geraldine Brooks’s work.

Brooks has a knack for finding some very interesting concept (i.e. the Sarajevo Haggadah, Mr. March, the town of Eyam) with limited information, doing exhaustive research, and then building an entire, rich story around it (making it all seem effortless on the page, I might add).

Caleb’s Crossing is no different in that regard, but Brooks has taken it a step further. The story is told, not through the eyes of Caleb, but through those of Bethia, an English girl he meets during their childhood and who, in many unseen ways, facilitates his “crossing.” Readers not used to Brooks’s style might be wary of a book in which the title character does not speak for himself and could therefore miss the finer points of her literary prowess. And so it is last, but certainly not least.

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One Response to “Geraldine Brooks — START HERE”

  1. janereads said

    Great author and great post. Year of Wonders is one of my favourite reads.

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