Friday, May 4, 2012

An Interview with Author Geraldine Brooks

On April 22, I posted a review of a wonderful book by Geraldine Brooks called People of the Book.  I was so taken with her story that I immediately contacted the author through her publicist at Viking/Penguin, Louise Braverman. What I had not thought to take into account was that Geraldine would likely be right in the thick of promoting her newest book, Caleb’s Crossing.  And of course she was—and is.  She was getting ready to head out on a book tour when I wrote to her.

But to my delight, Geraldine Brooks, as busy as she is, responded to my email interview questions within days. Our correspondence follows. 

MCW:  Your story, People of the Book, put me in mind of stories like The Red Violin, that go back in time and give us a glimpse into the lives of people who all had a connection due to an artifact.  How did you choose the Haggadah as your vehicle of interest for People of the Book?

Geraldine Brooks [photo: Randi Baird]
GB:  It chose me, as most of my ideas seem to do.  I had heard of the Haggadah when I was a reporter in Sarajevo during the seige, and the story of its multiple rescues but unlikely hands just took hold of my imagination. 

MCW:  What amount of research did you have to do for this book? 

GB:  It was immense, really.  Everything from what makes wine kosher to the censorship of Hebrew books in 17c. Venice to what 14th c. Spanish Jews ate for breakfast...there was a lot of travel involved, a lot of library work, a lot of badgering people to let me watch them work on book conservation etc.

MCW: Tell us about your title, People of the Book.  What did you have in mind when you chose that title? 

GB:  It works on a few levels.  The basic one is, that this is the story of the people who created and saved this particular book.  The echoes, however, come from the use of the phrase by Muslims...the "Ahl Al Katib" are Christians, Muslims and Jews who each have a sacred text at the root of their faith.  Jews of course also use the phrase to refer to themselves.

MCW:  How did the experience of writing People of the Book compare to writing March, Year of Wonders or your newest book Caleb’s Crossing? 

GB:  Each has its own pleasures and pains.  POB was definately the most complex in structure because it spans centuries and cultures.  It took me a while to work out the narrative thread, the connective tissue to bind the story.  The other books each have a sole narrator which is a simpler technical structure.

MCW:  What are you working on now?  What would you like people to know about your newest project? 

GB:  Nothing, yet!   It's a bit too early...but I can say it is another historical novel, this time set in the second iron age...

MCW:  What would you like people to know about you as a writer and as a person? 

GB:  I think my books say most of it.  Well, perhaps not how much I love my wouldn't be without a dog, in my view.  Or a horse, if you have a place to put one...

My sincerest thanks to Geraldine Brooks for taking the time to communicate with me and with my readers about her book and her writing.  

Geraldine Brooks's books include: 

  • Caleb's Crossing - based on the true story of a young man from Martha's Vineyard who became the first Native American to graduate from Harvard College -- in 1665.
  • People of the Book - tells the stories of the people who created and handled a precious Jewish tome throughout its history. 
  • March - the Pulitzer Prize winning story that imagined what it was like for the father of Louisa May Alcott's Little Women to serve as a chaplain in the Civil War. 


  1. Good interview, Peggy. I wasn't familiar with this author before, but now I'll have to check out a couple of her books.

  2. Thanks, Leslie. I hope you enjoy her books as much as I do.