Wednesday, July 1, 2009
On April 2, 2008, Geraldine Brooks was in Seattle to discuss People of the Book. So I’m using my write-up of that time for this book review.
Geraldine Brooks (aka Mrs. Tony Horowitz) opened her discussion of People of the Book with pictures from the Sophia Haggadah. She told from whence it come -- Spain, 1480 -- the time of the Jewish influence. The story takes Hanna Heath, a book conservator, in quest of the books’ long journey through history through Jewish, Muslim and Christian hands, and its rediscovery in 1996. She told how she was finally able to stick the stories of the Haggadah together and did so by the things that were found in the spine of the book (an insect’s wing, a white hair, saltwater crystals).
A hand-out listed other titles reflective of Brook books. For example, another novel that features a woman book conservator is Robert Hellenga’s The Sixteen Pleasures, about a book of erotic drawings and sonnets from the sixteenth century that is discovered in Florence, Italy after the devastating floods of 1996.
Her fiction title Year of Wonders: A Novel of the Plague, is a dramatic account of a young woman, a charismatic preacher, and a village isolated by sickness in 1660’s England. Another book in which the plague is a driving force is Phillip Gooden’s mystery Mask of Night, also set in 17th century London.
Brooks is also author of the 2006 Pulitzer Prize Winning book, March, a novel set during the US Civil War, much of it told from the point of view of the father of Alcott’s Little Women. As a chaplain in the Union army, March experiences not only the horrors of war, but also the terrible toll of slavery and racism. Another Civil War story told from multiple viewpoints in Robert Hicks The Widow of the South, in which an unusual love story unfolds, even amid the carnage of war.
As a journalist, Brooks spent years covering far-flung places on the globe as a correspondent for The Wall Street Journal where she met her husband. Her non-fiction book, Nine Parts of Desire: the Hidden World of Islamic Women, reveals the surprising true-life experiences of Middle-Eastern women and the cultural and political forces that shape their lives.
At the end of her talk, she invited questions like who are her favorite authors to which she replied -- Hemingway, William Styron, Tim Winton. She’s currently working on another period book that she didn’t really want to discuss as most authors don’t. In the course of her discussion she revealed that as a nine year old Aussie girl, she fell in love with a book. She found in the want ads that the book was from a series and she began saving to buy it. While her family was poor, they knew that books were as important as food and clothing so managed to buy it for her. She laid the books out on the dining room floor and felt her body quivering, her mind finding itself in a new dimension she’d never experienced before nor would again until she was about 15. It was lust! She doesn’t intend to write any more non-fiction because the research is so open-ended and would take her away from her son. She’d rather write historical fiction because its fun to imagine “what if“.