People of the Book – Geraldine Brooks

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That young country-cultural desert stuff gets very old. Australia happens to have the longest continuous artistic tradition in the world-Aboriginal people were making sophisticated art on the walls of their dwellings thirty thousand years before the people in Lascaux chewed the end of their first paintbrush.

Somehow he poured a whole bucket of sarcasm into that terse reply.

 

How could you possibly have an ethnic war here, in this city, when every second person is the product of a mixed marriage? How to have a religious war in a city where no one ever goes to church? For me, the mosque, it’s like a museum, quaint thing to do with grandparents. Picturesque, you know. Once a year, maybe, we’d go and see the zikr, when the dervishes dance, and it was like theatre.

 

“You sat in your nice little flat all through our war and watched us, bleeding all over the TV news. And you thought, ‘How awful!’ and then you got up and made yourself another cup of gourmet coffee.”

 

I was once told, by a very handsome and very hurt botanist, that my attitude to sex was like something he’d read about in a sociology textbook about the 1960s. He said I acted like the book’s description of a prefeminist male, acquiring partners for casual sex and then dumping them as soon as my emotional entanglement was required.

 

The joke was that anyone in Vienna who wasn’t carrying a musical instrument was either a pianist, a harpist, or a foreign spy.

 

Albanian tradition required brides to stand stock-still from dawn to dusk on their wedding day, forbidden from taking any part in the celebration. Even a smile was considered immodest and reprehensible.

 

“It must be cleansed of Serbs and Jews. Not a stone upon stone will remain of what once belonged to them.”

 

Leila means ‘evening’ both in Arabic, the language of our Holy Koran, and also in Hebrew, the language of your Torah?
 
Childhood in Dresden, abbreviated by war.

 

Australians: relaxed, funny. Austrians: Old World, funny.

 

All the so-respectable bourgeoisie terrified by the canker sores pulsing in their pantaloons.

 

Suicide and sexual diseases. Two great killers of the Viennese, from the highest born to the lowest.

 

But the woman had so little to say. Her whole existence seemed framed by fashion.

 

How could a man misplace the skills of a lifetime?

 

They’re dim and the tiles are leak stained, as if Boston Harbor is oozing its way through flaws in substandard concrete that some Irish mafia conned the city into buying. (about Boston tunnels)

 

She was in complete control of her data and responded to what she considered to be good points or queries with a gracious eloquence. But woe to anyone who asked something half-baked, or questioned her conclusions. She would fix them with this charming smile, but you could hear the chain saw revving. Without a hint of anger or arrogance in her voice, she’d dismember them.

 

Raz’s wife was the daughter of an Iranian-Kurdish mother and a Pakistani-American father. I couldn’t wait to see their kids: they’d be walking Benetton ads.

 

… the bishop’s sermon nothing more than flour already ground between the millstones of the rabbi’s intellect.

 

A red hat, a black hat: what matter? Neither one can cover up my mind.

 

“The author of this text did not write to provoke, but merely to express a truth as he conceives it. Your own theologians have tied logic knots to advance a doctrine addressing this very same point. What is the Virgin Birth, after all, but the fumbling of minds striving to deal with the indelicate realities of the body? We Jews are merely more forthright about such matters.”

 

… your poison has congealed, and that you have lost the recipe to brew more.

 

‘writing with many pens’ (about press, printing)

 

… an intellectual fast that had begun to feel like starvation.

 

But the Inquisitor let himself be wrapped inside the rabbi’s skein of clever words.

If he added the words star worshippers after a reference to idolater, he could exclude the implication that veneration of images of Christian saints was idol worship.

The youth’s eyes, through the crescent slots of an Arlecchino mask, were unintelligent as a cow’s. His breath, Aryeh thought, could have fuelled a lamp.

 

Kaddish, the prayer for the dead that did not mention death, or grief, or loss, but only life and glory and peace.

 

To eat such an insect, even by accident, would be to violate the commandment against consuming any of those living things that swarm.

 
He was this tomato-tossing lefty iconoclast.

“The lips of the strange woman drip honey, but her rear end is bitter as wormwood. 

 

How could she leave the Kahal, the only world she had ever known? She had been born there. Her parents lived and died there. Their bones, and now the body of her husband, were buried in the Jewish graveyard. How could a people leave its dead untended? And among Christians! When the Jews were gone, they would low the land for gain, disturbing the rest of all the beloved dead. And what of the old, the ill, those who could not travel, the women nearing their time? Give birth to the grandchild whom Miriam would never see.

 

“Really, Hanna, your vowels! They sound like a lorry has run over them. Anyone would think I was sending you off to the western suburbs every morning instead of the most expensive crèche in Double Bay.”

 

I wanted to give a sense of the people of the book, the different hands that had made it, used it, protected it.

 

Into one grain, there come a hundred harvests

In a single heart is a whole world contained.

No one had thought anything about the emir taking spoils of war; the Prophet Muhammed himself had taken wives from among both Jews and Christians when his forces had defeated them. It was understood that captives joined the harem from time to time, and rape was briefly legalized as marriage.

 

‘If wishes were horses, beggars would ride, eh?’

 

So why had an illuminator working in Spain, for a Jewish client, in the manner of a European Christian, have used an Iranian paintbrush?

 

In the end, a rat’s tooth of self-doubt began to gnaw at me.

 

I asked once, and the library assistant told me there were more than a hundred thousand books there, and more than sixty million pages of documents. It’s a good number, I think: ten pages for every person who died. a kind of monument in paper for people who have no gravestones.

 

This part of the escarpment was rich with art: Mimi paintings, the wonderful, energetic pictures of lithe figures hunting. Jim’s people, the Mirarr, believed they’d been painted by spirits.

 

Dear old Mum. Never let a chance to go by to make me feel like the dimmest bulb in the chandelier.

 

I’d gone cross-eyed swotting classical Arabic and biblical Hebrew but could barely name even five out of the five hundred Aboriginal languages spoken here.

 

The documentation and preservation of ancient Aboriginal rock art, before the uranium or bauxite companies had a chance to blast it into rubble.

 

“I know that some of those characters are lower than a snake’s armpit…. But involving your mob to do their dirty work…”

 

Probably been to every museum in Florence and yet never seen the Lightning Man at Nourlangie Rock.

 

Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg, the infamous arm of the Third Reich, the most efficient and methodical looters in the history of art. It had been headed by Hitler’s confidant Alfred Rosenberg, who had written a book before the war calling German abstract expressionism “syphilitic.”

 

Two Jews, three opinions. (an old saying)

 

The alleys were filled with brightly dressed women and men in their best suits, braving subzero weather to promenade among the balloon sellers and flower vendors.

 

He was still lean, still without a gram of spare fat.

 

It (Haggadah) 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.

 

We would be, as they say in the classics, totally stuffed.

 

Book burnings. Always the forerunners. Heralds of the stake, the ovens, the mass graves.

Too many books burned in the world.

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