Posts Tagged With: Eva Etzioni-Halevy

The Song of Hannah by Eva Etzioni-Halevy

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.
Rating: 7/10

Reviewed by: Elizabeth

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The Garden of Ruth by Eva Etzioni-Halevy

The Garden of Ruth, published in 2007, takes its inspiration from the biblical book of Ruth. However, Ruth is not the main character – instead, the heroine is Osnath, a young Jewish girl living several generations after Ruth. Osnath travels with her uncle, the prophet Samuel, to Bethlehem. While there, she stays with the family of Jesse, who has several sons. One of his sons, David, is annointed by Samuel to be the next king of Israel. While she is there, Osnath discovers an old scrap of a scroll that appears to be written by Ruth, David’s great-grandmother. When she tries to investigate Ruth’s story, however, Eliab, David’s brother, tries to thwart her interest. Realizing there is a secret to be discovered, Osnath continues to seek out more information about Ruth, while becoming entwined in the lives of David and Eliab’s family.

I was extremely pleased with this novel. Unlike The Triumph of Deborah, where the main characters are based on actual biblical figures, Eztioni-Halevy creates a completely imagined heroine to be the central figure in this book. I felt like this allowed me to believe more fully in the character and her life. Osnath is very likable, and it is easy to find yourself rooting for her as she tries to solve the mysteries of Ruth’s life. Some of her reactions to various events seemed strange, but I think they would have been true to the period in which she was living. The section in which the author finally reveals Ruth’s story was fascinating, and paints a new and interesting picture of the biblical legend. Again, there is quite a bit of romance, but it did not seem to be as intrusive in this novel – it felt more appropriate, because Ruth’s story is a love story, as well. I would highly recommend this novel to historical/biblical fiction readers – you will enjoy it!

Rating: 8/10

Reviewed by: Elizabeth

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The Triumph of Deborah by Eva Etzioni-Halevy

The Triumph of Deborah is Eva Etzioni-Halevy’s most recent novel, published in 2008. It tells the story of Deborah, an Israelite prophet and judge, who lived in the time of the Old Testament book of Judges, probably somewhere between the 12th and 11th centuries BCE. Deborah is given a vision from the Lord to make war upon the Canaanites, and she chooses Barak, a young commander, to lead the Israelites in this war. When Barak defeats the Canaanite king, he takes captive two Canaanite princesses, who will eventually form part of a complex, emotional tug-of-war between Barak and Deborah.

I found the author’s treatment of Deborah to be fascinating. She was a fully powerful leader, demanding the respect of the elders of her tribe, and yet she was also a wife and mother, desiring to be led by the wishes of her husband. Etzioni-Halevy walks the tightrope of power and expectations well, and I found Deborah’s struggle to resolve her call to leadership with her desire to be a proper wife and mother to be completely believable. Nogah, one of the princesses taken captive by Barak, was equally intriguing, and almost the co-heroine of the novel. Each of the main characters takes a turn having their stories told, and I found myself sympathizing with and being frustrated with them equally – much like in real life, I would imagine. My main quibble with the book is that I felt we spent too much time in the characters’ love lives, when I would have preferred more exploration of the themes of war and peace, and female empowerment versus traditional roles. But in general, I was captivated by the novel, and recommend it to fans of historical/biblical fiction.

Rating: 7/10

Reviewed by: Elizabeth

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The Triumph of Deborah by Eva Etzioni-Halevy

The twelve tribes of ancient Israel have been in the promised land for nearly a hundred years, but theirs is not a peaceful existence. The Canaanites have never ceased to harass the tribes, attacking small villages, stealing livestock and killing any Israelite they come across. The only safety is in numbers and the Israelites have retreated behind the walls of their towns.

The prophetess Deborah, a mother in her thirties, has been a powerful voice for the Israelites for years. She is known far and wide for her fair judgement and is a respected leader. She has received a vision that she must bring peace with the Canaanites. When her diplomatic efforts fail, she is forced to call the tribes together under a warrior who will lead them to victory. If the Canaanites will not agree to a truce, Israel must subdue them by force.

Barak is a young warrior who has been very successful in retaliatory raids against the Canaanites. He has built up quite a bit of wealth, is strong and a natural leader of men. He is Deborah’s choice to lead the Israelites. Unfortunately Barak has a reputation that precedes him. He is a lover of women, many women. This does not sit well with Lapidoth, Deborah’s husband. He does not trust Barak and does not want Deborah anywhere near him. They have a huge fight and Lapidoth’s anger and jealousy get the better of him, he divorces Deborah on the spot, after sixteen years of marriage.

Despite the problems in her personal life, Deborah agrees to accompany the army to the battle against the Canaanites. While the war is a resounding success, it creates further problems for Deborah, who has developed a bit of a crush on Barak. He demands sexual favors of her in return for his participation in the war and she surprises herself by enjoying their encounter. Then he manages to capture two of the Canaanite king’s daughters, Asherah and Nogah. Thus a love triangle (rectangle?) is born. Untangling the motivations and emotions of everyone involved will have a great impact on future events.

What a great premise for a novel, to take biblical women who have little known background information and breathe life into their stories. The author does it beautifully, creating the landscape of ancient Israel so that the reader can experience it. She then brings her characters to life with human needs and emotions so that they shake off the dust of history and can be related to as people, just as if they were living today. It’s the best kind of historical fiction and I recommend it!

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