Geraldine Brooks has used historical settings and events and real-life characters as the background and players in her six novels: Colonial New England in Caleb’s Crossing; the Sarajevo Haggadah in People of the Book; the plague years in England in Year of Wonders; and the American Civil War in the Pulitzer prize-winning March. It is no surprise that her just released novel, The Secret Chord, returns to that formula.
This time the historical focus is the life of the Biblical King David. What most of us know of David is from Old Testament Bible stories: David and Goliath, the defeat of the Philistines, the loss of his son, Absalom. Brooks incorporates all of these stories and more, fleshing them out in her narrative.
But this is much more than a Bible story for mature adults. More than the story of a young shepherd’s journey to becoming the first King of Israel. Brooks writes the story of a MAN–of mythic qualities, certainly–but a man blessed not only with great strengths and talent but also subject to human frailties and imperfections. We see a man of great musical and poetic talent, fueled, perhaps, by morose melancholy. A stupendous warrior whose burgeoning hubris separated him from his one-time royal mentor, Saul. A man truly adored by legions but swayed by his own carnality.
As in her previous novels, Geraldine Brooks’ prose is elegant, the characters well drawn, and the settings and plot developed for maximum reader involvement. As I read the novel, I was entertained by having those Bible stories from my youth brought to life on the pages. But, I also began to wonder what was based on documented “fact” and how much was the novelist’s creation. I reread parts of the Old Testament and picked up a copy of Jonathan Kirsch’s excellent biography, King David. What I found was that as in her previous novels, the author stayed very close to documented history for the story’s framework. Of course, the novelist has imagined conversations and personal interactions and has projected personal motivations in order to develop the story. All of it hangs reasonably, however, from the documented framework.
This is a very good read and exploring the “myth” of David within the context of a very human character only reinforces the historical figure.
Submitted by Indigo Books