Book Reviews

The Secret Chord

In my oil-soaked days of Chanukah, I found myself reading the story of a great Jewish warrior. No, not Judah Maccabee. Geraldine Brooks’ The Secret Chord, which recounts the story of King David, had been on my TBR list since I learned it existed. When my book club chose it as the selection for December, I cheered. And then I waited. And waited. And waited. As much as I love my public library and can speed read on demand, I knew I was going to need more than a week to get through the book. So thank you Amazon Prime 2 day delivery.

With so much anticipation, I expected to be blown away by this book. And to an extent, I was. I loved the way in which the author intermingled the Biblical and embellished fictional narrative. I loved the way that she brought forward the stories and voices of characters who were only briefly allowed out of the shadows in the Biblical text. Unfortunately, I tripped over my own rabbinic feet, trying to go back and cross-reference Brooks’ Biblical quotes. Perhaps the greatest testament to Brooks’ writing is that The Secret Chord stands on its own two feet as a complete work of literature. As a reader, checking the sources was distracting and counter-productive. Brooks did her homework, and her language flows beautifully with the Biblical style. If King David was a poet, Geraldine Brooks certainly matches him for linguistic grace.

My only misgiving came from the complexity of the story. Three hundred and some odd pages were not enough to delve into the whole history of King David’s rise to the kingship, his reign over the united kingdom of Israel, and the battle for succession (and other shenanigans) among his children. I would have preferred more focus on any single one of these aspects of King David’s notable life. Since many of these elements are uncomfortable at best, and horrifying at worst, perhaps it is best to have a sympathetic ear as you respond to the onslaught of this intense portrait of this most famous of Jewish warriors and kings.

This book is best enjoyed with a bottle of your favorite Israeli wine.

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