King David is a biblical icon about whom we actually know very little. If you want to experience (first hand) the highs and lows of King David in a way you never dreamed possible, then read Geraldine’s Brooks’ “The Secret Chord,” which will be released in October of 2015. This fictionalized history of King David’s life, as told by his prophet, Natan, comes alive off the page and pulls you in. If you know your Old Testament (which I do not), you know that David became the second king of the United Kingdom of Israel at a young age, after having slain Goliath. You also might know that David had many wives and at least 20 children, and that many tragedies befell the family. There were many battles, many gruesome killings and a lot of conquering. But you probably don’t know anything about David, the man. The book revolves around Natan’s documentation of David’s life.
Brooks stays true to the biblical story but adds all of the unknown personal details. The story has everything–love, hate, sex, war, infidelity, adultery, jealousy, homosexuality, rape, incest, polygamy, and fratricide, just to name a few (really, is there anything left?).
We first meet David when he is older and appears to be losing his power, complaining bitterly of this circumstance to Natan. He instructs Natan to write his personal history by interviewing his estranged mother, Nizevet, his brother, Shammah, and his banished first wife, Mikhal. We learn all about David the man through these interviews and through Natan’s experience and memory. Brooks begins with Nizevet’s description of David’s isolated childhood, having been rejected by his father and sent to live on his own in a hut tending sheep at the age of six. It was then that David discovered music and taught himself to play a rudimentary harp of his own creation. Music plays a critical role in David’s life throughout the book, reflecting his moods and various life stages. Natan wrote “He said that the music–its order and precision–helped him find the pattern in things–the way through the confusion of events and opinions to direction, to order, and beyond, to inspiration.”
Shaul was the king in David’s youth and Shaul’s prophet, Shmuel, predicted that David would be the next king when David was only a child. David grows into a brutal warrior, killing the strong and the weak – children, men and women alike. Shammah and Mikhal explain that David married Shaul’s daughter, Mikhal, after being rejected by Shaul’s younger daughter; but David’s true love was Shaul’s son, Yonatan. The relationship between David and Yonatan is one of the first indications that David is a more complex and feeling person than the brutal warrior we are introduced to. As time goes by, Shaul feels threatened by David and David challenges Shaul’s power and leadership. In response Shaul renounces David’s marriage to Mikhal and marries her off to another man. David does not seem all that bothered at the time.
As David became more and more powerful he became more ruthless in every way, engaging in adultery and murder and finding new and interesting ways to ruin people’s lives. Observing David’s narcissistic behavior, Natan wondered, “Where, then, was his empathy? Buried, I supposed, beneath his self-regard.” How many people do we know whose empathy is buried beneath their self-regard?
Natan predicted many horrible things to befall David and his family and the rest of the book tells the stories behind the reality of that prophecy. Brooks writes of themes of cruelty, narcissism, love, sorrow and regret – themes that we experience in our modern lives and that make David a more human, understandable character. Although David lived almost 1,000 years Before the Common Era, the story feels current (other than perhaps the brutal killings) and the reader (at least this reader) finds herself comparing David in his various stages to people in her life.
Geraldine Brooks is a brilliant writer. Her skill in bringing character and place to life make what could have been just another fictionalized story of biblical history a masterpiece. Put this book at the top of your reading list!
You can reserve this book at the Cuyahoga County Public Library when it is released in October 2015 by clicking on http://encore.cuyahoga.lib.oh.us/iii/encore/record/C__Rb11163931?lang=eng.
You can also meet the author, Geraldine Brooks, and/or purchase a book on October 27, 2015 from 7:00 pm to 8:30pm at the Parma-Snow branch location of the Cuyahoga County Public Library – Register here