People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks
An intricate, ambitious novel that traces the journey of a rare illuminated Hebrew manuscript from Spain to the ruins of Sarajevo, from the Silver Age of Venice to the sunburned rock faces of northern Australia.
In 1996, Hanna Heath, an Australian rare-book expert, is offered the job of a lifetime: analysis and conservation of the famed Sarajevo Haggadah, which has been rescued from Serb shelling during the Bosnian war. Priceless and beautiful, the book is one of the earliest Jewish volumes ever to be illuminated with images. When Hanna discovers a series of tiny artifacts in its ancient binding - an insect wing fragment, wine stains, salt crystals, a white hair - she begins to unlock the book's mysteries. The reader is ushered into an exquisitely detailed and atmospheric past, tracing the book's journey from its salvation back to its creation.
Review: I really liked this book for the way the author switched between the more-or-less present day narrative and events from the past. The book became a character as its secrets were revealed through tiny objects: a butterfly wing, hair, or drop of wine. I found the historical insights fascinating and even the descriptions relating to book preservation were so well written they didn't get too esoteric. Definitely recommended!
Geraldine Brooks: She was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in fiction in 2006 for her novel March. Her most recent novel, Caleb’s Crossing, was a New York Times best seller. Other novels, Year of Wonders and People of the Book are international bestsellers, translated into more than 25 languages. She is also the author of the nonfiction works Nine Parts of Desire and Foreign Correspondence.
The Sarajevo Haggadah is real! Read what Wikipedia says:
The Sarajevo Haggadah is an illuminated manuscript that contains the illustrated traditional text of the Passover Haggadah which accompanies the Passover Seder. It is one of the oldest Sephardic Haggadahs in the world, originating in Barcelona around 1350. The Haggadah is owned by the National Museum of Bosnia and Herzegovina in Sarajevo, where it is on permanent display. Its monetary value is undetermined, but a museum in Spain required that it be insured for $7 million before it could be transported to an exhibition there in 1992.
The Sarajevo Haggadah is handwritten on bleached calfskin and illuminated in copper and gold. It opens with 34 pages of illustrations of key scenes in the Bible from creation through the death of Moses. Its pages are stained with wine, evidence that it was used at many Passover Seders.