While I thoroughly enjoyed Geraldine Brook's two earlier novels, Year of Wonders and March, this one just didn't quite measure up to my expectations.
This is a historical novel about an illuminated Hebrew manuscript which was created in 15th c. Spain and recently saved from the ruins of Sarajevo's bombed out libraries in 1996. The protagonist, Hannah Heath is an Australian rare book conservator and the story follows her quest to "unlock the mysteries of the book's eventful past and to uncover the dramatic stories of those who created it and those who risked everything to save it". Brooks alternates the narrative between the past and the present. In alternating chapters, the reader is transported back through time to Seville in 1480. Along the way, we travel through WWII Bosnia (and the Nazis), the rising anti-Semitism of fin-de-siecle Vienna, the Inquisition and Venice in 1609, Tarragona (Spain) in 1492, and finally Seville where the manuscript originated. These chapters were well-written and quite interesting and informative (but so many horrific tales of inhumanity!). For me, however, the chapters dealing with Hannah's personal life were merely an irritating disruption to the rest of the story. I didn't care a whit to listen to Hanna's argumentative and caustic banter, or hear about how her (equally) ambitious mother abandoned her (boo-hoo), or to follow the sad story about her "romance" with a Muslim librarian. Her life seemed so overwrought and, basically, I just didn't like her. I have to admit there were a few moments when Becky's review of Year of Wonders came to mind and how it provoked in her almost a wish to come down with the plague so she could stop reading the book. More than once I wanted to throw Hannah into one of the dark, dank dungeons (Inquisition) just to get her out of the story. Becky, I felt some of your pain! Skip this one.