The Secret Chord: A Novel
Author: Geraldine Brooks
Publisher: Viking, 2015
Genre: Historical Fiction
Hardcover Edition: 300 pages
Source: Personal Copy
King David is perhaps the person from deepest in history to have the story of his entire life known from biblical writings. Nathan, friend and counsel to David throughout his life narrates this story. Through his eyes, the reader feels, the blood, the dust, the terror and the joy of the David and those surrounding him.
In this novel Brooks brings to vivid reality what it was like to live in Second Iron Age Israel. She creates a surprisingly imaginative story yet so real you hear the music, witness the violence, and feel the hatred individuals spew forth living in this life-or-death society. Events are filled with passion and daring, but never for a moment do they seem unreal.
David’s music is a central backdrop to the story and just one example of how fully imagined he is as a main character. Celebrations and indeed all aspects of life include music. People process, singing, dancing, and playing instruments: cymbals, systrums (a percussion instrument that is shaken), flutes, lyres, drums. David composes music and words: “Give praise, proclaim his Name, Proclaim his marvels to the nations, Sing to him, sing praise to him…” David plays the harp with great skill, and indeed he makes a crude harp when he is quite young. In celebration of the ark he whirls and dances among the olive trees.
The details of how people lived at that time are clearly, even cleverly, portrayed and again, this makes the story very real. This reader especially identified with the women in the story. David’s wives and daughter are central to the plotlines of his life. The portrayal of third-wife Avigail as his great friend and confidant is quite touching. Nathan is entirely believable as a seer and a courtier. The skilled pacing of David’s story by this experienced author keeps the pages turning despite multiple characters and a life crammed with action and adventure.
David has fascinated readers for centuries, whether the young boy who fells a giant with his skill, the vicious killer, or the wise ruler. Brooks shows us how he was all this and more. Both his physicality and his emotional life are on display in her story. This reader enjoyed my time immersed in this ancient history, which yet seemed so modern. Perhaps human nature doesn’t much change through the ages. I truly hated to see the book come to a close. I did not want to leave the people or the place. I’m hoping for a mini-series!