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The Secret Chord by Geraldine Brooks
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The Secret Chord by Geraldine Brooks
Paperback $18.00
Oct 04, 2016 | ISBN 9780143109761

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    Oct 04, 2016 | ISBN 9780143109761

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  • Oct 06, 2015 | ISBN 9780698411487

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  • Oct 06, 2015 | ISBN 9780698411586

    787 Minutes

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Praise for The Secret Chord

“A page turner. . .Brooks is a master at bringing the past alive. . .in [her]skillful hands the issues of the past echo our own deepest concerns:  love and loss, drama and tragedy, chaos and brutality.”
—Alice Hoffman, The Washington Post

The Secret Chord—a thundering, gritty, emotionally devastating reconsideration of the story of King David—makes a masterly case for the generative power of retelling. . .some of the magic here has to do with setting and time—for sensory dramatics, it’s hard to compete with the Iron Age Middle East. . .but Brooks’s real accomplishment is that she also enables readers to feel the spirit of the place.”
The New York Times 

“There’s something bordering on the supernatural about Geraldine Brooks.  She seems able to transport herself back to earlier time periods, to time travel.  Sometimes, reading her work, she draws you so thoroughly into another era that you swear she’s actually lived in it.  With sensory acuity and a deep and complex understanding of emotional states, she conjures up the way we lived then. . .Brooks has humanized the king and cleverly added a modern perspective to our understanding of him. . .[Her] vision of the biblical world is enrapturing.”
  —The Boston Globe

“The David that bursts off the page in this chronicle is a larger-than-life commixture of virtues and flaws. . .I may be late to the party on the amazing Ms. Brooks, but The Secret Chord won me over.  Its storytelling magic is as timeless as the tale it tells.”
The San Francisco Chronicle
“It’s this David – gifted artist, vainglorious alpha male, conflicted husband and father – that we meet in The Secret Chord, the beautiful, subtle, grave new novel by Geraldine Brooks. . .The Secret Chord paints [a] fresh portrait of King David. . .For Brooks, David is interesting not for his status as the most beautiful man in art history, but, rather, for his matrix of contradictions. . .in this telling, he is the Bible’s ultimate Machiavellian.”  
USA Today

“Rich and imaginative. . .Thanks to Brooks, David is as compelling as he is contradictory, with the writing in The Secret Chord as lyrical as the lyre that David plays.”
 —The Minneapolis Star Tribune

“Deeply sympathetic. . .Brooks offers new perspectives on a character whose story has captured the Western imagination for millennia. . .she breaks from the biblical version by giving voice to the voiceless women in David’s life:  wives and lovers, a daughter, a mother — the beloved and the scorned.”
The Chicago Tribune
“A compelling read, contemporary in its relevance. . .The Secret Chord is powerful storytelling, its landscape and time evoked in lyrical prose.” 
The Guardian
“The best historical fiction. . .Brooks gives the whole king his due. . .It’s a tall order to breathe life into such a human being, and she manages it admirably.”                                            –—NPR

“In The Secret Chord, Brooks does what she does best: bring psychological realism and dramatic arc to a subject we scantly know from history and myth. . .The result yields a gripping tale of a ruler’s stresses and sacrifices, his triumphs and shames.  The Secret Chord reads like a Shakespeare history play with a dash of Machiavelli.”
The Dallas Morning News
“[A] deeply imaginative exploration of this once powerful but deeply flawed ruler. . .Brooks is a gifted, engrossing storyteller.  Like March and People of the Book, The Secret Chord is studded with action, interesting characters, sweeping timelines and moving scenes filled with drama and conflict. . .a timely and universal exploration of the limits of loyalty, the seductive and corrupting influence of power, and the intersections between sin and faith, punishment and redemption.”
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
“George R.R. Martin’s got nothing on the biblical chroniclers of David, kind of Israel.  Incest? Treachery and murder?  Marriages for love and political alliance?  This is the original Game of Thrones. . .Each of the members of David’s court comes into sharp relief.”
The Miami Herald                                                               

“Like her beautiful descriptions of David as worshipful musician, Brooks’ surface details befit the ancient story. Her delicate rendering of the spare, sun-pierced land is a painful foreshadowing of its still-embattled importance.” 
Philadelphia Inquirer

 “The Pulitzer-Prize winning author has succeeded in humanizing a mythic figure, breathing life, emotion, and literary resonance into a midrash that transforms David the King into David the Man.”                                                                               

“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

Author Q&A

1. Humanity’s relationship with God is a major theme in your books. How would you describe your own faith, and how does it drive your work?

I’m interested in believers and in what faith does for us and to us. As a foreign correspondent in the Mideast, I witnessed firsthand the excesses born out of fanatical belief, and I draw on those experiences to imagine the past, when faith was often the defining essence of day-to-day existence. I’m drawn to the human quest for meaning. I like asking the questions. I haven’t found the answers.

2. Have any fragments of the real book of Natan ever been discovered? Do scholars believe it to be a biography of David?

All we know about it are the two mentions in Chronicles that I have used as epigraphs to the novel. Some scholars posit that Natan’s book might have been incorporated into the accounts in Samuel, but I like to think it’s out there somewhere, sealed in a clay jar, buried deep in the caves of Qumran.

3. Are there any other reasons you chose Natan to be the narrator of this novel?

I’m drawn to the Hebrew prophets, these ardent truth tellers who faced the elite of their society and brought unwelcome messages. Abraham Heschel described “their breathless impatience with injustice” and called them some of the most difficult people who ever lived, “facing man, faced by God.” 

4. Throughout the book, you refer to God only as “the Name.” Why is this?

There’s a risk, in writing about David, that he feels too familiar to us. All the famous artworks—Renaissance, Mannerist, modern—that have portrayed him as somehow a man recognizable to their own time. Yet he is not familiar. He’s a man of the Second Iron Age, a vastly different world. He’s a devotee of a faith that neither visualizes its deity nor names it. I used the term “the Name” to remind us of that distance. That’s also the reason I used the less familiar Hebrew names—Yishai rather than Jesse, Shmuel rather than Samuel. Jesse and Samuel sound like pupils at my son’s middle school. I didn’t want that.

5. Which character did you find easiest to create? Which was the most challenging?

I loved reimagining the story of Mikhal. Her love for David, the huge risk she takes to save him from her father, the terrible retribution the king then exacts for that betrayal, and all that follows—this powerful story is told in a handful of lines in the Bible. Marvelous lines, to be sure, but very few. Putting in the missing passion, the rage, the bitterness—that was very satisfying.

I think David himself is always going to be the most challenging because he embodies so many contradictions. My struggle was to bring balance to all his contrasting traits, all the lights and shadows of his nature.
6. Some readers might be surprised to learn about David’s passionate love affair with Yonatan. Is the “fact” of his bisexuality widely known?

On this point, all I can say is, read the account in the books of Samuel and the psalm Song of the Bow. There was only one conclusion I could draw from that material. Others may have a different view.

7. What can David’s story teach readers today? Why is his legacy still important?

There are myriad facets of his life that reward contemplation. He experiences everything: triumph, celebrity, exile, repudiation. Love and hatred. Children who tear apart his family and try to steal his position; a child who grows up to become a byword for wisdom and good governance. He is famous for his art, he is renowned as a fighter, he is celebrated as a nation builder. He’s a descendant of the most important biblical figures and the antecedent of Jesus. I think the question is What do you want to learn? If it involves the experience of being human, you’ll find insight in the life of David.

8. The Secret Chord is your fifth novel and your eighth book. Has the way you work changed much since you first began writing? Do you ever regret leaving journalism to write fiction?

I loved my years in journalism and I draw on those intense experiences constantly in creating fiction. But being a novelist is very liberating. No one calls in the middle of the night telling you to get on a plane to a war zone. It’s much more compatible with raising kids. 

9. You draw so much of your inspiration from history. When you’re reading for pleasure, do you prefer history to literature? Who are some of your favorite writers?

To be honest, while I read a vast amount of history for research, I don’t turn to it for pleasure. I read poetry, fiction, and contemporary narrative nonfiction in about equal measures. The list of my favorite writers would consume another book. 

10. Do you have any plans for your next book?

It’s a novel called Horse, a braided narrative set in the Kentucky horse county of the 1860s, the New York art world of the 1960s, and the present. Beyond that, the deponent sayeth not.

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