The Secret Chord: Book summary and reviews of The Secret Chord by Geraldine Brooks

The Secret Chord

A Novel

by Geraldine Brooks

The Secret Chord by Geraldine Brooks X
The Secret Chord by Geraldine Brooks
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Book Summary

A rich and utterly absorbing novel about the life of King David, from the Pulitzer Prize–winning author of People of the Book and March.

With more than two million copies of her novels sold, New York Times bestselling author Geraldine Brooks has achieved both popular and critical acclaim. Now, Brooks takes on one of literature's richest and most enigmatic figures: a man who shimmers between history and legend. Peeling away the myth to bring David to life in Second Iron Age Israel, Brooks traces the arc of his journey from obscurity to fame, from shepherd to soldier, from hero to traitor, from beloved king to murderous despot and into his remorseful and diminished dotage.

The Secret Chord provides new context for some of the best-known episodes of David's life while also focusing on others, even more remarkable and emotionally intense, that have been neglected.  We see David through the eyes of those who love him or fear him—from the prophet Natan, voice of his conscience, to his wives Mikal, Avigail, and Batsheva, and finally to Solomon, the late-born son who redeems his Lear-like old age. Brooks has an uncanny ability to hear and transform characters from history, and this beautifully written, unvarnished saga of faith, desire, family, ambition, betrayal, and power will enthrall her many fans.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"In her gorgeously written novel of ambition, courage, retribution, and triumph, Brooks imagines the life and character of King David in all his complexity...The language, clear and precise throughout, turns soaringly poetic when describing music or the glory of David's city ... taken as a whole, the novel feels simultaneously ancient, accessible, and timeless." – ALA Booklist

"Although her decision to use archaic language, including the Hebrew spelling of names ... sometimes slows the narrative, she compensates with the verve of an adroit storyteller." – Publishers Weekly

"A skillful reimagining of stories already well-known to any well-versed reader of the Bible gracefully and intelligently told." – Kirkus Reviews

This information about The Secret Chord was first featured in "The BookBrowse Review" - BookBrowse's membership magazine, and in our weekly "Publishing This Week" newsletter. Publication information is for the USA, and (unless stated otherwise) represents the first print edition. The reviews are necessarily limited to those that were available to us ahead of publication. If you are the publisher or author and feel that they do not properly reflect the range of media opinion now available, send us a message with the mainstream reviews that you would like to see added.

Any "Author Information" displayed below reflects the author's biography at the time this particular book was published.

Reader Reviews

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Cloggie Downunder

a joy to read
“And there is one chord, one perfect assembly of notes that no other hand can play. The sound of it – pure, rinsing sound, void so that your spirit seems to rush in to fill the space between the notes”

The Secret Chord is the fifth novel by Pulitzer prize-winning Australian author, Geraldine Brooks. David, son of Yishai (Jesse) the Beit Lehemite (Bethlehemite): a shepherd boy, a warrior, an accomplished harpist with a beautiful voice, a composer of psalms, a husband, father, lover, and second King of the United Kingdom of Israel; the significant events in the life of this charismatic figure from the 10th century BCE are related by Natan (Nathan), prophet and part of David’s retinue from the tender age of ten, whose perspective is that of one both present and prescient.

Natan says: “I have set it all down, first and last, the light and the dark. Because of my work, he will live. And not just as a legend lives, a safe tale for the fireside, fit for the ears of the young. Nothing about him ever was safe. Because of me, he will live in death as he did in life: a man who dwelt in the searing glance of the divine, but who sweated and stank, rutted without restraint, butchered the innocent, betrayed those most loyal to him. Who loved hugely, and was kind; who listened to brutal truth and honored the truth teller; who flayed himself for his wrongdoing; who built a nation, made music that pleased heaven, and left poems in our mouths that will be spoken by people yet unborn”. He also tells us “They knew his flaws. Indeed, I think they loved him all the more because he was flawed, as they were, and did not hide his passionate, blemished nature”

The subject matter that Brooks selects for her novels may well be one which a reader would not normally choose, but with this author, the reader is, nonetheless, rewarded with an eminently readable story. Brooks is skilled at making a historical subject come to life by telling the story from the perspective of one closely involved in events, and this book is no exception: all those battles, all that slaying, all the lay withs and begats that cause the eyes to glaze over when read in their original form are made into a riveting read. (For readers who have forgotten their bible stories or never read them, Wikipedia is a great quick reference on David’s life.) The small details of everyday life, the biblical–sounding language and archaic spelling of character names give the text an authentic feel. And as always, the depth of research that Brooks has done on her topic is apparent in every paragraph.

Her descriptive prose is often truly beautiful: “It was as if the harp were a loom, the notes he drew from it a bright thread forming a glorious pattern….his large strong hands could draw forth a breadth of sound that one did not generally associate with the gentle harp. He could make it speak with a thousand voices, soft or stormy” and “His face – his beautiful face – was sunken and scored with lines, the hollows beneath his cheekbones scooped out as if a sculptor had driven his thumbs too deeply into the clay” are two examples.

Passages like “It was the kind of thing that corrodes, like a drop of lye fallen upon linen. You don’t see the effect at first, but in time the fibers weaken and fray, a hole widens, and the garment is spoiled. Only if the drop is washed away directly can the damage be gainsaid” and “… the timbre of David’s voice was a thing apart. It had the tingling urgency of the shofar, and yet was not shrill. It could engender awe, as a high wind howling dangerously through mighty branches, or bring delight, as an unexpected trill of sweet birdsong” make this work of historical fiction a joy to read. Once again, Brooks does not disappoint.
With thanks to TheReadingRoom and Hachette Australia for this copy to read and review

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Author Information

Geraldine Brooks Author Biography

Photo: Randi Baird

Australian-born Geraldine Brooks is an author and journalist who grew up in the Western suburbs of Sydney, attending Bethlehem College Ashfield and the University of Sydney. She worked as a reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald for three years as a feature writer with a special interest in environmental issues.

In 1982 she won the Greg Shackleton Australian News Correspondents scholarship to the journalism master's program at Columbia University in New York City. Later she worked for The Wall Street Journal, where she covered crises in the Middle East, Africa, and the Balkans. In 1990, with her husband Tony Horwitz, she won the Overseas Press Club Award for best coverage of the Gulf War. The following year they received a citation for excellence for their series, "War and Peace." In ...

... Full Biography
Author Interview
Link to Geraldine Brooks's Website

Other books by Geraldine Brooks at BookBrowse
  • Year of Wonders jacket
  • People of the Book jacket
  • March jacket

6 more...

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