I was lucky to attend a talk recently given by Geraldine Brooks, in which she discussed the factual inspiration behind her novel, People of the Book (2008). Brooks is an articulate and entertaining lecturer, and the focus of her presentation was the necessity to safeguard books (and all cultural artifacts) against those who would destroy them for political, ethnic or religious reasons. Having worked as a journalist in war zones, Brooks experienced first-hand Henrich Heine’s mantra, “Where one burns books, one in the end burns men.”
Brooks other works, March (2005) and Year of Wonders (2001) are, like People of the Book, the products of deep historical research because she enjoys writing fiction which has “a scaffolding of fact, but with great voids where the imagination can work...” She also believes that a writer should be allowed to write from the point of view of any character, regardless of any difference in their sex or ethnicity; to do otherwise, she contends, would be to succumb to (a wonderful phrase) “an apartheid of the imagination.” Well put.
Now I feel obliged to try again to read People of the Book. I failed before – couldn’t get into its swing.