A freelance writer and traveller who likes to explore the spiritual, literary and hidden gems of Adelaide and beyond.
Published January 7th 2016
Encountering King David
I have just had an encounter with King David (3,000 BC) as told in the bible. Previously I had read children's bible stories, articles and studies, so the story was familiar. In The Secret Chord by Geraldine Brooks the reader is not merely given information, but is taken to another time and place. This is the mark of a gifted writer, who has the ability to set the scene and immerse the reader in far and strange places.
The story is narrated by Natan, the King's adviser, a man who could see visions and prophesies, many times afraid of what he has seen. This story construction is a masterstroke, as the reader follows Natan as he is commissioned to go in search of the King's past history and the people who made David what he became. The narrator is not only an observer, but also very much a part of the narrative as he also shaped events.
David is seen as a gallant but flawed leader. Geraldine Brooks brings the story to life with fine and evocative detail. Here we hear not only about David's amber eyes, but look into them; from sensual to defiant, vengeful to ageing and resigned. The story begins with Natan at the end of his days looking back.
'There was an almond blossom, yesterday. It had opened its pale petals on a twig of the bough that curls and twists up to my windowsill. This morning the blossom is gone; the paleness upon the twig is snow. It does one no good, in these hills, to set store by the earth's steady warming.
My body is as bent as that bough. The cold is an ache in my bones. I am sure the year's reaping will be the last that I see. I hope only for one more season of summer fruits, for the ease of the hot sun on my back, for ripe figs, warm from the tree, spilling their sweet nectar through these splayed fingers.'
The author Geraldine Brook's son. Ten years ago, he was a nine-year-old boy who wanted to play the harp. He is seen here at the book launch in 2015, with harp.
The reader is taken to this house with its fading almond blossom, the ripe figs oozing and the musings of an old man. We hear the story from Natan's pen and we are privileged and privy to the machinations of David's reign. The blood guilt, the succession and those who are damned to fight to be king; brother against brother, against father and all kin. This bible story has been described as more bloody than a Game of Thrones plot, so it's not for the faint hearted. The story of David is cited as having little historical reference to its existence. The bible tells these stories in detail and many wonder who would make up a King with so many contradictions and flaws.
As a post script or afterword, the author tells of her own connection to this story. Her nine-year-old son asked to learn to play the harp. This led not only to him taking lessons to learn the harp, but research into the story of King David and his musical aptitude and gift for the harp, something he was self-taught in. Many of the Psalms of the bible are credited to King David.
The Secret Chord is a best seller and has a story worth sharing. It's a story of faith and divisions, jealousy and betrayal, love and loss. Available in all good book stores.