As a young girl I went to mass every Sunday. In the 1950s and 1960s that meant that the mass was in Latin. While I was going to catechism I heard stories about how Catholics were treated in some countries. And I remember listening to a particular sermon that had me wondering if Russians were to come and to decry, maybe even outlaw, my religion would I have the faith would I hold true to my beliefs? Identity and religion were deeply entwined in my childhood.
A lot this may seem extreme for a young person to deal with or think about, but I was reminded of these experiences as I’ve been reading Geraldine Brooks’, The People of the Book, this year’s choice for Pasadena’s One City, One Story. Part mystery, part history, and wonderfully written, it follows both the journey of the Sarajevo Haggadah from its beginnings and the journey of those who are its caretakers and guardians as they are intimately involved with it.
As a graduate student I was tempted to focus on the music of the Middle Ages. I was fascinated with the images and symbolism that was a part of the illustrated manuscripts. I’m sure that my religious upbringing had a hand in this choice. There was a familiarity with the translation tale to image. The Latin of the manuscripts was the same Latin that was a part of my bilingual missal. The musical manuscripts were at once familiar and unknown.
Years removed from Grad School I find myself drawn again to that period in time via the People of the Book. Ms. Brooks’ writings of Venice and Vienna remind me of days and nights I spent in those cities. There are scents and sights that seem a part of the history of some cities and its people that changes little over time.
Ms. Brooks will join Jan Sanders, Pasadena Public Library director, in conversation tonight at 7 p.m. in the All Saints Sanctuary. I look forward to hearing her share how she came to write the book and how her research defined what she wrote. I’m sure it will be equally illuminating to hear the questions and answers that will be shared.