Friday, April 24, 2009

The Song of Hannah by Eva Etzioni-Halevy

As one who devours Biblical fiction, I couldn’t wait to dive nose first into The Song of Hannah by Eva Etzioni-Halevy. Her writing resume is impressive-penning some 14 books before tackling Biblical fiction. In this, her debut Biblical fiction novel, she recounts the story of Hannah and all that her life entailed. We are introduced to her husband Elkanah, the other wife in his life Pninah, and of course, Samuel her long awaited son. She writes of the battles between Israel and the Philistines and of Samuel lamenting for a people he couldn’t save.

Halevy takes a calculated risk as she adds depth to her novel by filling in the pieces historical documents left untouched. She exposes the betrayal of misguided love and lust through Pninah’s character. We see how unfair it could have been perceived from a woman’s viewpoint for men to be philanderers while women were kept to a strict code of monogamy. We see too clearly the tension that having multiple wives bring to a family unit and how each may have dealt with that tension. We partake in self esteem issues, infertility, and other situations common to women of any era.

If taking these liberties offends those readers that want to think no further than what is presented in historical documents, it is not Halevey’s intention. She is merely adding what may have transpired through her research of the life and times of the Israelites, and is neither apologetic nor arrogant in trying to bring authenticity to the lifestyles of these characters. Although passion, lust and the private intimacies of her characters are described briefly, Halevey does so with as much dignity as possible to preserve the facts surrounding her characters.

I was spellbound by her knowledge-whether book learned or intuitive-of the daily interactions between multiple wives sharing the same husband. This is a situation we know existed yet it is rarely discussed openly. The Song of Hannah reads as one who was there watching, experiencing and documenting what took place. We don’t know that it happened exactly as she’s written, but we don’t know that it didn’t either.

The wonderful world of Biblical fiction allows the author to embellish for the sake of filling in missing pieces of information. If the reader is looking for a more accurate portrayal, another genre would be better suited. However, I will still advise caution in reading The Song of Hannah. It is not for young or deeply religious readers. For those that can separate the facts from a little embellishment, I couldn’t recommend The Song of Hannah more.

Paperback: 304 pages
Publisher: Plume
Released August 30, 2005
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0452286727
ISBN-13: 978-0452286726