Monday, September 19, 2016

Secret Chord by Geraldine Brooks (2015)

Another amazing book by Geraldine Brooks. This time she takes the old testament story of David, you know the one who killed  Goliath? and turns it into a rich book about Jewish history and those times. I don't think I ever got very far with reading the Old Testament, but I did read the Latvian translations of Stefan Andres' Bībeles stāsts (Story of the Bible, not sure of the original language.) I read it as a child, but I got through all the main stories of the Bible and I remember thinking there was an inordinate amount of bloodshed. I needed to know the stories that are so much a part of our culture, but I am sure it also turned me off to the Bible's interpretation of God and his judgements.

Anyway, this story is told by Nathan, the seer and adviser to David who is one of the few people David trusts throughout his life. Nathan is a shepherd, when David and his exiled troops come upon him. David's troops kill Nathan's father for not providing them with supplies, and Nathan goes into a trance and proclaims that David will be king and starts traveling with them - learning to fight but eventually also learning to read and write and thus becoming a wise man. I knew that King David was a major figure in the Bible, but here Geraldine Brooks created a whole novel around what may have been - all the family intrigues, all the wives, the fighting and bloodshed, betrayals, God's (always referred to as the Name in the book). From what I gather in the Wikipedia, she has taken all the people in the story from the Bible and just extrapolated. Some have suggested that David's relationship with Jonathan was more than platonic love, so Brooks makes it an intense physical attraction. All the wives are in the book, but of course the one that I knew about was Bathsheba, though I did not remember that wise Soloman was her son. So David sleeps with her and then has her husband killed, so she doesn't have to be stoned for adultery. Here Nathan prophesies, that David will have to pay fourfold for this sin - he loses the first son with Bathsheba, his daughter Tamar is raped by her half brother and his two oldest sons are eventually killed. David has indulged his older sons, but Soloman is taken under the wing of Nathan who teaches him wisely. At one point David is looking for a new place to be the center of his kingdom, and finds a well defendable town that becomes Jerusalem. Besides being a great warrior, strategist and fair king, he is also a great musician and composes many songs in his life. Yes, songs of David ring a bell - aha - many of the psalms. So this is just the story one can already find in the Bible (though historians are doubting the validity of the whole story) and Brooks makes us feel the times with a rich description of the climate, sounds, sights and smells, as well as an insight into many of the characters. Just wow!

I like Geraldine Brooks enough that I actually bought the book, but never seemed to pick it up to read, so I actually listened to it in audio. She chose different spellings and pronunciations of the names, but since I have misplaced the book, I used the common names and spellings. If I find my print copy, I will edit this.