The Song of Hannah, published in 2005, tells the story of the Old Testament prophet Samuel through the eyes of two women – Hannah, his mother, and Pninah, his father’s other wife. Hannah and Pninah are childhood friends who grew up together learning to read the Torah. Hannah, the beautiful one, is pressured by her family to marry, but feels in her heart that there in only one right man for her. Pninah meets Elkanah when his family purchases the property next door, and quickly falls in love and becomes pregnant. At their wedding ceremony, Hannah meets Elkanah for the first time, and immediately knows he is the man she has been waiting for. When Elkanah takes Hannah as his second wife, Pninah is devastated, but still maintains her hold on him by giving him children. Hannah, who is loved but barren, begs the Lord for a child, promising him to the temple after his birth. Hannah’s son, Samuel, becomes the greatest prophet of the Israelites, but has demons of his own that make him all too human.
The Song of Hannah is told in alternating voices, so the reader is able to see the story from the point of view of both Hannah and Pninah. Etzioni-Halevy does an excellent job of giving each woman her own distinct voice, and each woman has an equal share of admirable and shameful moments. I couldn’t help sympathizing more with Pninah, but that could be my natural tendency to root for the underdog. I think the author is at her best when she is examining the complex relationships between men and women, and women and women, and this novel certainly has many such relationships to explore. Her new imagining of the barely mentioned biblical character of Pninah makes the well-known narrative seem fresh. Again, I would highly recommend this novel to biblical/historical fiction readers. It is excellent.
Reviewed by: Elizabeth