Thursday, May 21, 2009

The Triumph of Deborah by Eva Etzioni-Halevy

"Our women don't negotiate," he retorted in a cutting tone. "They are true women. They are delicate and soft like fluttering sparrows, not coarse and presumptuous and domineering, like hawks, as you are."

Sisra had spoken to Deborah as no man had ever dared speak to her before and his words struck her like a slap in the face. Her anger flared up, and this time she retaliated with sharp words of her own. "I have no wish to learn your opinion of me. I want only to attain peace with your king and your people." (from The Triumph of Deborah, page 23)

The Triumph of Deborah by Eva Etzioni-Halevy is my first foray into biblical fiction. Deborah is a judge respected by the Israelites, and the book is based on Judges in the Old Testament. According to the historical note at the end of the book, the events that take place within its pages occurred from the 12th to mid-11th centuries BCE.

The Canaanites have long been attacking the Israelite villages, stealing livestock and raping and enslaving the women. Deborah, also a prophetess, recognizes the need for the Israelites to go to war, as the Canaanites already are preparing to battle. Against her husband's wishes, Deborah chooses Barak, a young wild-child warrior to lead the Israelites into battle. Barak, however, is known for his sexual antics (particularly with his maids), and he says he will lead the army only if Deborah agrees to share his bed as his reward.

From the start of the book, Etzioni-Halevy shows how difficult it was to be a woman during this period in history. Though well respected by her people, Deborah is unable to negotiate peace with Sisra, the Canaanite warrior, because she is a woman. Her husband, Lapidoth, doesn't think the battlefield is a suitable place for a woman, and when Deborah makes it known that she plans to accompany Barak and has no intention of putting an old commander in charge (Lapidoth's first choice), he gives her a book of divorcement. She is forced to leave the home she has shared for years with Lapidoth and their five young sons and take up residence in the tent on the hill where she acts as judge.

But the main focus of The Triumph of Deborah isn't just Deborah's story. After conquering the Canaanites at the beginning of the book, Barak captures Asherah, King Jabin's daughter and wife of Sisra, to be his wife after the 30-day period of mourning ends. Asherah has no choice but to become Barak's wife, as he plans to take her against her will if he must. Meanwhile, Nogah, Asherah's sister who grew up as a slave in the castle, serves as Barak's maid and develops deep feelings for him. Throw in Deborah, who also has feelings for Barak, and there's not a love triange but a love square. Barak is an interesting character, given that he uses women to fulfill his sexual needs without a thought to their feelings, but he also has a compassionate, tender side and a genuine desire to care for people's needs.

I'm glad Etzioni-Halevy chose to tell the story from various points of view. Each of these characters has a chance to display their feelings and motives, and even with their flaws laid out on the table, it was easy to feel sympathetic toward them all. Her writing is beautiful, easily shifting from one point of view to another. Some readers might be put off by the numerous sex scenes, especially when dealing with biblical themes (though one must understand that there is sex in the Bible), but they were well written and not graphic. Given the nature of Barak's character, I don't think they were overdone.

There is a lot going on in The Triumph of Deborah, from personal relationships, war and political dealings, slavery and social customs, religion, and the oppression of women, but Etizoni-Halevy expertly weaves these themes together and creates a story that was difficult for me to put down. I am not well versed in the story of Deborah and Barak and cannot separate the history from the fiction, but it didn't affect my enjoyment whatsoever. I highly recommend this book, especially for readers who love historical or biblical fiction, and I hope to read Etizoni-Halevy's other novels at some point.

Visit Eva Etzioni-Halevy's website for an excerpt from The Triumph of Deborah and a reading group guide.

The Triumph of Deborah also was reviewed by:

In Spring it is the Dawn
A Novel Menagerie
Book Addiction
Books and Cooks
Reading Reflections
Book Escape
The Literate Housewife Review
Peeking Between the Pages
Melissa's Bookshelf
Jo-Jo Loves to Read

If I missed your review, let me know in the comments, and I'll add your link!

Disclosure:  I received a free copy of The Triumph of Deborah from the author for review purposes.


Blodeuedd said...

Does sound like a good book :)
Maybe something i could read

Susan Helene Gottfried said...

I am DYING to wave this book at my book club. I think it's right up our alleys.

Jo-Jo said...

I also loved this book review is here. Barak sure sounded like something, didn't he?

ANovelMenagerie said...

So... guess what? The story in the Bible is VERY SHORT! There's almost nothing in there at all about it! So, the book really takes your mind and imagination places.

I really liked this book!

Melissa O. said...

Great review. Sadly I can't say I enjoyed the book as much, though there were some aspects I could appreciate. My review is here

I've also added a link to your review on mine. Thanks!!

Toni said...

I am reading this one.. I need to get back into it.. the story flows easily and I like the writers style and story telling ability. And Deborah is a highly likable character. Great review.

Staci said...

I read Biblical fiction from time to time and really enjoy it when it's well written. Great review of this one Anna!

Darlene said...

Great review Anna. I just loved this book. I'm glad you enjoyed it also.

My link is here

Unknown said...

I really liked this one too. I didn't think women were that powerful in Biblical times.

S. Krishna said...

I have this one on my shelf, so I'm glad to see you enjoyed it! Great review!

Molly said...

The only work of biblical fiction I have read so far is the Red Tent. While I would not classify this as my preferred literary genre, I am intrigued by this book, based on your review alone. I am sure that I will check it out sometime soon.

I wanted to let you know that I gave you the "you don't say" award today :)

And is it true -- I will get to meet you in person at BEA?!

bermudaonion said...

I bet it was really interesting about life for women in those days. I'm very glad that I didn't live back then.

tanabata said...

I was glad the author used different points of view to tell the story too so we could get a bit more insight into the various characters. And I have to say I'm very glad I live now! How hard it was to be a woman at that time.

Marie Cloutier said...

I'm glad you enjoyed it. I read it a while back and while I did not review it, I found it entertaining. :-)

Jennifer Taylor said...

I haven't heard of this book. Thanks for sharing.

The Bookworm said...

this sounds interesting, great review.
I hadnt heard of this one before.

Literate Housewife said...

Great review! I really enjoyed this book, too. I liked that it wasn't my mother's biblical fiction. I'm looking forward to reading her other books this summer. Are you planning on reading any of the others?

Unknown said...

I am not very much into strictly biblical fiction either but your review is so thorough and engaging that I can imagine the book cannot be any less.

Serena said...

Though I haven't read biblical fiction, this sounds like an interesting take on the subject and the multiple points of view would make it even more fascinating. Thanks for another great review.

Anonymous said...

I really enjoy Biblical fiction and it sounds like this one is right up my alley.

Becca said...

This has been on my TBR list for a while. If you like Biblical stories, you might enjoy this movie I saw called One Night with the King that tells the story of Esther. It was very good.

Anna said...

Blodeuedd: Let me know if you give this one a try.

Susan: I bet you'd enjoy this one!

Jo-Jo: He certainly was! I added your link.

ANovelMenagerie: I've heard that part of the Bible was short. Still haven't read it, though.

Melissa: I added your link and commented on your review.

Toni: I'm looking forward to your thoughts when you've finished. :)

Staci: Thanks! I haven't read too many, but I'll have to keep my eyes open for others.

Dar: Thanks! I added your link.

Janel: I didn't either, but I was happy to learn that some of them were.

S. Krishna: Thanks! Can't wait to see what you think of it.

Molly: Thanks for the award!! My father in law really enjoyed The Red Tent and recommended it to me, but I haven't read it yet.

Bermudaonion: I feel the same way!

Tanabata: I think the changing POV was great for this story. Makes you realize how lucky we are to live now.

Marie: I'm glad to hear you enjoyed it, too.

Jennifer: You're welcome!

Naida: Thanks!

Literate Housewife: Thanks! I added your link, too. Once my TBR pile is tamed a bit (hopefully by the end of the summer) I think I will read the others.

Lilly: Thanks!

Serena: I think you'd enjoy this one. You can borrow my copy if you want to read it.

Carol: Let me know if you get a chance to read it!

Rebecca: I'll have to keep an eye out for that movie. I've never heard of it.