This novel is a book about a book, a very special book known as the Sarajevo Haggedah. In 1996 a young Australian woman, Hanna Heath, who is a rare book conservator specialising in the repair and restoration of incunabula ( books produced before 1501 AD), is appointed by the UN to go to Sarajevo to examine a book which has been kept hidden during the Bosnian War. The book turns out to be the renowned Sarajevo Haggadah, a lavishly illustrated Mediaeval Hebrew manuscript which was made at a time when Jewish belief was very much against illustrations of any kind. This was because the Jews of the Middle Ages still adhered to the command given in Exodus that “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image or likeness of anything”.
On close examination, Hanna finds that the book contains some tiny clues as to its earlier life – an insect wing, wine stains, some salt crystals and a white hair. Following these clues she attempts to unravel the history of this remarkable book,
Geraldine Brooks has inserted tales of the various times and places which have featured in the life of the book into the story of Hanna Heath and her investigations and how they impact on both her professional and private life, cleverly marrying fiction with what is actually known about the book.
Moving backwards through time the reader discovers what happened to the Haggedah during the 2nd World War when a Muslim librarian saved the book from the Nazis; through Vienna at the turn of the 19th Century when anti-Semitism was on the rise, and the book became a pawn in a deadly game; back through the Inquisition in Venice where the Haggadah was saved from being burnt by a Catholic priest. Finally we learn of the book’s early history in
The author has based her novel on a true story, but has written her own version of the people that were involved with this remarkable book. What is particularly remarkable is that on two occasions Muslim librarians risked their lives to save a single book that was testament to the endurance of a faith which was not their own.
I learnt a great deal from reading this book - about 15th Century Spain, about the conservation of rare books, about Judaecia, about the Hapsburg Empire at the fin-du-siecle, and above all, about how special librarians are.
This book has a great story, and is an informative read, I really recommend it to you.
Thank the lord I shall be out of the country on Valentine’s Day as I am heartily (geddit?) sick of the overpriced commercial tat that is everywhere. And I do mean everywhere, shops, supermarkets, hairdressers, petrol stations….(would YOU want a love token purchased from a garage forecourt?)
How does it get to the point where a rather quaint old-fashioned tradition turns into a mega-marketing opportunity so that the whole thing has become a nauseously unromantic parody of what the day originally represented.
Every restaurant is fully booked for that evening, I suspect they could be serving mildewed tripe on toast and still make a huge profit, service will be abominable as they pack in too many punters. As far as I’m concerned it is the one night of the year where it is best to avoid restaurants like the plague. I’m slightly surprised that MacDonald's hasn’t jumped on the bandwagon with a heart-shaped Big Mac.
For days beforehand the cost of flowers rockets upwards, and if my DH ever thought of buying me any of the exorbitantly priced, scent free, red roses that the florists are stocking in bulk (which he won’t be doing as we will be about 8000 miles apart) I would probably bash him over the head with them for wasting his money.
Many of the Valentine’s cards on sale have lavatorial jokes, or sexually crude messages that would make a stripper blush – who would want to receive one of those from their paramour?
Big business has targeted the day, and managed to shoot Cupid in the process.
We have two friends who have Coeliac disease which means that they cannot tolerate any gluten in their diet. When I have either of them to dinner I have to plan the menu carefully because it is amazing how often a recipe calls for a spoonful of flour here or there. I came across this marvellous, completely gluten free recipe on a food blog I often read, Kalyn's Kitchen (to visit her blog click HERE), and I tweaked it a bit to fit what ingredients I had in store. This is one recipe I will be making regularly, and not just for those who have Coeliac disease.
ALMOND & PARMESAN CRISPY BAKED CHICKEN PIECES
3 large skinless and boneless chicken breasts,
3 Tablespoons mayonnaise
1½ Tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1½ Tablespoons water
1 large clove of garlic, pushed through a garlic press
¾ teaspoons seasoning of your choice - I used Tesco's Hot Spicy Rub
3 Tablespoons freshly grated parmesan cheese
1½ cups ground almonds
½ teaspoons seasoning
salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste
Slice the chicken breasts crosswise into 1½ cm wide strips – each breast should make 6-7 pieces.
Whisk the mayonnaise, mustard, balsamic vinegar, water, garlic and seasoning together in a bowl, and then add the chicken pieces, stirring well so they are completely coated in the marinade. Cover with clingfilm and marinate for at least 3-4 hours (you can make it in the morning or even the night before).
Pre-heat the oven to 220°C
Use non-stick baking spray to coat a large baking tray (or grease it lightly with vegetable oil).
Remove the chicken and marinade from the fridge and allow to come to room temperature.
Mix the grated parmesan, ground almonds and seasoning together in a large shallow bowl.
Shake excess marinade off each piece of chicken and toss in the coating mixture until well covered, lay the pieces in a single layer, not touching, on the greased baking tray.
Bake in the oven for 10 minutes, then take out, and using a metal spatula gently turn each piece over before returning to the oven for a further 8-10 minutes. The pieces should be a golden brown.
Serve with a crisp green salad.