Secret Chord (Brooks)

The Secret Chord 
Geraldine Brooks, 2015
Penguin Publishing
320 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780670025770

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.
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. (From the publishers.)

Author Bio
Birth—September 14, 1955
Raised—Ashfield, New South Wales, Australia
Education—B.A., Sydney University; M.A. Columbia University (USA)
Awards—Pulitzer Prize
Currently—lives in Virginia, USA

Geraldine Brooks s an Australian American journalist and author whose 2005 novel, March, won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. While retaining her Australian passport, she became an United States citizen in 2002.

Early life
A native of Sydney, Geraldine Brooks grew up in its inner-west suburb of Ashfield, where she attended Bethlehem College, a secondary school for girls, and the University of Sydney.

Following graduation, she became a rookie reporter for the Sydney Morning Herald and, after winning a Greg Shackleton Memorial Scholarship, moved to New York City in the United States, completing a Master's at Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in 1983. The following year, she married American journalist Tony Horwitz in the Southern France village of Tourrettes-sur-Loup and converted to his religion, Judaism.

As a foreign correspondent for the Wall Street Journal, she covered crises in Africa, the Balkans, and the Middle East, with the stories from the Persian Gulf which she and her husband reported in 1990, receiving the Overseas Press Club's Hal Boyle Award for "Best Newspaper or Wire Service Reporting from Abroad." In 2006, she was awarded a fellowship at Harvard University's Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study.

Brooks's first book, Nine Parts of Desire (1994), based on her experiences among Muslim women in the Middle East, was an international bestseller, translated into 17 languages. Foreign Correspondence: A Pen Pal's Journey from Down Under to All Over (1997), which won the Nita Kibble Literary Award for women's writing, was a memoir and travel adventure about a childhood enriched by penpals from around the world, and her adult quest to find them.

Her first novel, Year of Wonders, published in 2001, became an international bestseller. Set in 1666, the story depicts a young woman's battle to save fellow villagers as well as her own soul when the bubonic plague suddenly strikes her small Derbyshire village of Eyam.

Her next novel, March (2005), was inspired by her fondness for Louisa May Alcott's Little Women, which her mother had given her. To connect that memorable reading experience to her new status in 2002 as an American citizen, she researched the Civil War historical setting of Little Women and decided to create a chronicle of wartime service for the "absent father" of the March girls.

Some aspects of this chronicle were informed by the life and philosophical writings of the Alcott family patriarch, Amos Bronson Alcott, whom she profiled under the title "Orpheus at the Plow", in the 10 January 2005 issue of The New Yorker, a month before March was published. The parallel novel was generally well received by the critics. It was selected in December 2005 selection by the Washington Post as one of the five best fiction works published that year. In April 2006, it won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

In her next novel, People of the Book (2008), Brooks explored a fictionalized history of the Sarajevo Haggadah. This novel was inspired by her reporting (for The New Yorker) of human interest stories emerging in the aftermath of the 1991–95 breakup of Yugoslavia. The novel won both the Australian Book of the Year Award and the Australian Literary Fiction Award in 2008.

Her 2011 novel Caleb's Crossing is inspired by the life of Caleb Cheeshahteaumauk, a Wampanoag convert to Christianity who was the first Native American to graduate from Harvard College, an achievement of the seventeenth century.

Her next work, The Secret Chord (2015) is a historical novel based on the life of the biblical King David in the period of the Second Iron Age.

2006 - Pulitzer Prize for March
2008 - Australian Publishers Association's Fiction Book of the Year for People of the Book
2009 - Peggy V. Helmerich Distinguished Author Award
2010 - Dayton Literary Peace Prize Lifetime Achievement Award
(From Wikipedia. Retrieved 10/14/2015.)

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

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.
Boston Globe

Deeply sympathetic.... Brooks offers new perspectives on a character whose story has captured the Western imagination for millennia.... [S]he 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.
Chicago Tribune

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.
San Francisco Chronicle

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.
Minneapolis Star Tribune

[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.
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

A compelling read, contemporary in its relevance.... The Secret Chord is powerful storytelling, its landscape and time evoked in lyrical prose.
Guardian (UK)

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.

Brooks’s interest in religious commitment accrues rich rewards in this ambitious and psychologically astute novel about the harp-playing, psalm-singing King David of the bible.... [E]vents provide plenty of melodrama and considerable suspense.... [Told with] the verve of an adroit storyteller.
Publishers Weekly

Brooks has given us a portrait of a monarch who is despicable, heartless, and cruel and yet can inspire and reciprocate passionate love and fierce loyalty. The author's use of archaic language, including the Hebrew spelling of names...slows down the narrative, but her writing is insightful and impeccably researched. —Susan Santa, Syosset P.L., NY
Library Journal

[G]orgeously written....The language, clear and precise throughout, turns soaringly poetic when describing music or the glory of David’s city.... [T]aken as a whole, the novel feels simultaneously ancient, accessible, and timeless.

"He was big enough, but no giant." With that gently dismissive allowance, spoken by the biblical King David, Brooks continues to explore the meaning of faith and religion in ordinary life.... A skillful reimagining of stories already well-known to any well-versed reader of the Bible gracefully and intelligently told.
Kirkus Reviews

Discussion Questions
1. Natan’s first prophecy spares him from certain death but also sets him apart from other men. Is his ability a gift or a curse?

2. How does David’s childhood inform your understanding of the man he will become?

3. What might it mean that God chose to bestow so much upon a man as imperfect as David?

4. Do you believe that some people are chosen to speak in God’s name? What role do prophets play in the events of man?

5. Would David make a good leader today? Why or why not?

6. What is David’s worst crime? His greatest achievement?

7. Which of David’s wives do you believe suffered the most at his hands? Did he love Yonatan more than any of them? If so, why might that be?

8. How well does Geraldine Brooks capture David’s era and his essence?

9. David is a man driven by passion and violence, but he loves God with equal fervor. How would you explain this?

10. Are you familiar with the psalms attributed to David? If so, do you have a favorite?

11. What might David have done if he had known that Natan was hiding what he knew about his sons’ futures? Would David hesitate to kill Natan if he felt the prophet had betrayed him?

12. What is the nature of Natan’s feelings toward David? Would you be able to serve a man like him?

13. What is “the secret chord”? Why did Brooks choose this phrase as the novel’s title?
(Questions issued by the publisher.)

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