Geraldine Brooks’ historical novel is very well researched. How can you tell?She puts every last scrap of information she uncovered into it. Geraldine Brooks historical thriller-mystery has a theme. How can you tell? She explicitly states it at least a half dozen times. There’s this celebration of diversity:
The warmth had tempted all kinds of people into the streets. Hirschfeldt took comfort in their diversity. There was a family, the wife veiled, the man wearing a fez, who had probably come all the way from Bosnia to see the heart of the empire under whose protection their lands had fallen. There was a Bohemian Gypsy woman, her spangled hem jingling in time to her swayed-hip walk. And a Ukrainian peasant with a red-cheeked boy riding on his shoulders. If the German nationalists wanted to purify this state of foreign influence, they would have many more obvious exotics to weed out before they got to the Jews…
Or this vision of the future:
the magnificent mutts that I hope we are all destined to become given another millennium of intermixing.
And again, near the end, lest we have forgotten:
the haggadah came to Sarajevo for a reason. It was here to test us, to see if there were people who could see that what united us was more than what divided us. That to be a human being matters more than to be a Jew or a Muslim, Catholic or Orthodox.
Then there was the mother-daughter thread, which she seemed to tire of and wrap up in a desultory fashion. Sex? OK. Here ‘ya go, in all its greasy glory:
The tips of his fingers glistened with the lamb grease from my cheek. I brought them to my lips and licked them, slowly, one by one. His green eyes regarded me, asking a question anyone could understand.
Oh, there are some fine passages. I’m not saying GB cannot write effectively. As in this death scene:
Embracing his little sister, he stepped off the bank, onto the ice. He walked out into the center, where the ice was thin. His sister’s head lay on his shoulder. They stood there for a moment, as the ice groaned and cracked. Then it gave way.
I don’t want to be too hard on the book, it’s popular and tells a good story. But it’s all a bit calculated. Movie? Coming up!