Critical Overview

Critical assessment of People of the Book is very mixed. Some, like Emily Barton, writing for the Los Angeles Times, praise the novel. Barton writes: “Geraldine Brooks has, however, half-found and half-invented a swashbuckling book and, despite occasional quirks, woven a tale that’s haunting and satisfying.”

Others, like Lisa Fugard of the New York Times Book Review, have mixed opinions. Fugard finds that while “Brooks’s extensive research is evident throughout…she occasionally chokes her storytelling with historical detail.”

Janet Maslin, writing for the New York Times, also gave the novel a mixed review: “It intermingles painful yet inspiring cross-cultural encounters with ‘Aha!’ moments of detective work that seem contrived, no matter how accurate they happen to be.”

Other critics, like Yvonne Zipp of the Christian Science Monitor, had more difficulty with the novel. Zipp complains that “[t]he occasional heavy-handedness, as well as the fact that every single story is loaded with portent about the treatment of the Jewish people (and women) over the centuries, makes it impossible to shake off the knowledge that Brooks is always hovering over the pages, a benevolent professor conducting a history lesson in the importance of tolerance.”

The Washington Post’s Jonathan Yardley gave an assessment of People of the Book that sums up the opinion of the novel for a number of critics. According to Yardley, Brooks’s novel falls somewhere between popular fiction and a work of literary merit. Yardley writes, “Brooks tells a believable and engaging story about sympathetic but imperfect characters—‘popular’ fiction demands all of that—but she also does the business of literature, exploring serious themes and writing about them in handsome prose.”