The book is a highly fictionalized account of the Sarajevo Haggadah, an illuminated medieval Jewish text that managed to survive -- in addition to just centuries of existence -- the expulsion of Jews from Spain, the Inquisition, Nazis, and the Bosnian War. In the latter two cases, the book was protected by Muslim librarians. Yay librarians!
With such good true-life source material, the novel can't help but be entertaining. Honestly, I found it hard to keep from comparing it in my mind to the Archimedes Codex, another real-life story of a book that just would not die. Where the Archimedes Codex bounced back and forth between the modern day restoration of the physical book and the historical path that Archimedes' work (and the codex) passed through from his time to ours, The People of the Book bounces back and forth between the modern day restoration of the physical book (in the hands of our Australian conservationist protagonist), and the historical path that the haggadah passed through from the time of its creation to ours (as told through fictional vignettes suggested by fragments of evidence uncovered by Dr. Heath in her examination of the book).
Unfortunately, in the comparison, I enjoyed the Archimedes Codex more. The People of the Book suffers, I think, from an excess of drama and spice being applied like shock treatment to try to make the modern day story more exciting. Some of the historical episodes also strain credulity, but are far more effective and satisfying. Overall, however, I enjoyed it.