The Secret Chord

by Geraldine Brooks

Hardcover, 2015

Call number





Viking (2015), Edition: First, 320 pages


"A rich and utterly absorbing novel about the life of King David, from the Pulitzer Prize winning author of People of the Book and March. With more than two million copies of her novels sold, New York Times bestselling author Geraldine Brooks has achieved both popular and critical acclaim. Now, Brooks takes on one of literature's richest and most enigmatic figures: a man who shimmers between history and legend. Peeling away the myth to bring David to life in Second Iron Age Israel, Brooks traces the arc of his journey from obscurity to fame, from shepherd to soldier, from hero to traitor, from beloved king to murderous despot and into his remorseful and diminished dotage.The Secret Chord provides new context for some of the best-known episodes of David's life while also focusing on others, even more remarkable and emotionally intense, that have been neglected. We see David through the eyes of those who love him or fear him - from the prophet Natan, voice of his conscience, to his wives Mikal, Avigail, and Batsheva, and finally to Solomon, the late-born son who redeems his Lear-like old age. Brooks has an uncanny ability to hear and transform characters from history, and this beautifully written, unvarnished saga of faith, desire, family, ambition, betrayal, and power will enthrall her many fans."… (more)

Media reviews

"It isn’t for me to argue with Scripture, but I will say that Geraldine Brooks’s latest novel, “The Secret Chord” — a thundering, gritty, emotionally devastating reconsideration of the story of King David — makes a masterly case for the generative power of retelling."
5 more
"Though she offers no compelling alternative read of David, the fact that she manages to faithfully reconstruct the story is itself something of a feat, as is her evocation of a highly complex character in a manner that is at once critical and also deeply sympathetic."
"But in making David so satisfyingly human, Brooks has crafted from The Secret Chord a compelling read, contemporary in its relevance."
"From the texture of wool tunics, the fragility of clay tablets, and the easy grazing of goats to the outsized pride of the men, the unquestioned subjugation of women, and the hot brutality of the nonstop battles, Brooks’s vision of the biblical world is enrapturing."
"In many ways, “The Secret Chord” reads like a prose poem, with battle after battle recounted in detail, but it’s a page turner of a poem."
"A skillful reimagining of stories already well-known to any well-versed reader of the Bible gracefully and intelligently told."

User reviews

LibraryThing member thewanderingjew
The Secret Chord, Geraldine Brooks, author; Paul Boehmer, narrator
This is a book that may not have universal appeal, but anyone interested in Jewish history will find it an admirable and rich re-imagination of King David’s life, authentically presented as it is written in the style and language popular in the days of King David’s reign. The lyrical texture of the prose is magnetic, drawing the reader into the narrative. It lent itself well to the narrator of the audio whose most resonant voice assumed the appropriate tone for each character as he expertly spoke as Natan as Natan related and wrote about David’s rise to the throne and beyond, in an effort to preserve the memory of the man he was, for the world to come. In this retelling, there may be some who may not like the man he was or came to be.
David had been rejected by his own father, Yishai, who never claimed him as a son, believing he was the product of his wife’s adultery. Even when he learned the truth, he refused to accept him until circumstances forced his hand. In addition to the rejection of his father, he was tormented by his brothers. Finally, at the age of six, he was sent to live alone, as a shepherd in the mountains. He was a child who appeared to acclimate to his situation happily. One day, when he impressed King Shaul with his fighting prowess, even slaying Goliath, he was taken to live with him as his son and his days as a shepherd ended. Saul’s own son, Yonatan fell in love with David. His daughter, Mikhal, who was Yonaton’s double, also loved David. All went well until Saul began to have mental problems and he turned against David. David, in turn, formed his own band of men to overthrow Saul.
David is portrayed as a man with an abundant sexual appetite for both sexes, a man with the voice of an angel and magic fingers when he played the harp. The psalms he composed were sung at court and survive today. He had many consorts and many children. Some he loved more than others. He was a study in contrasts, both kind and cruel. A violent warrior, he committed murder with abandon, sacked cities because “it was necessary”, and took women at will. A proud, arrogant man, he found it hard to forgive someone he felt had wronged him, but in spite of that, he often found ways to amend his errors and provide justice. Although he was much loved by his subjects and his wives, he was also much feared and disrespected by some. He was often at risk from family who wished to overthrow him and assume the throne.
Natan was a shepherd. One day, he came upon David and was asked to have his father send provisions to him and his men. When David killed Natan’s father because he had refused to provide him with provisions, Natan had a vision. He spoke in a strange voice and then passed out. He announced that David would ascend to the throne. From that time, beginning, when he was a mere nine years old, he was at David’s side. He was not a seer who could always tell what was about to happen, but he would have visions that put him into a trance-like state, a state in which he sometimes remained incapacitated and unable to speak which prevented him from interfering and altering the future he saw in his visions. To David, he became the prophet G-d chose to speak through. To some, Natan seemed a charlatan, but to David he had the gift of prophecy, and he relied on him often for advice and counsel. It was Natan who chronicled his life for posterity so that he would not be forgotten, but would be remembered for the kind of man he was, remembered as a person, not just remembered for his deeds.

The novel (and I caution the reader to remember that it is a novel, a fictional rendering of the history of the famous Jewish King), takes the reader through the arc of his life until the anointing of his son Solomon as King. Solomon was conceived in sin with Batsheva who was married to David’s most devoted and accomplished soldier, Uriah. David was smitten with her and he called her to his chambers, bedding her although she was married. When her pregnancy was discovered, he did what he had to do to preserve her reputation, and he married her after Uriah’s death. He paid dearly for that transgression for years to come, as it was prophesied.
… (more)
LibraryThing member TooBusyReading
This historical fiction about King David, told from the viewpoint of his prophet Natan, his seer, was quite interesting. The language seemed appropriate for the time, although I really wouldn't know. At any rate, there were no glaring anachronisms, like David LOL.

I do wish the author had used the names more familiar to me, like “Samuel” instead of “Shmuel.” I found myself changing the name to the more familiar one when I should have been concentrating on the story.

Even though this was a historically interesting book, I couldn't connect with the characters. I just didn't care about them enough. Sure, the women had horrible lives. Yes, there was more than enough brutality and cruelty to go around. But the author failed to make me empathize with the characters.

I'm glad I read this book, but it didn't engage me as I expected.

I was given an advance readers copy of this book for review.
… (more)
LibraryThing member TooBusyReading
This historical fiction about King David, told from the viewpoint of his prophet Natan, his seer, was quite interesting. The language seemed appropriate for the time, although I really wouldn't know. At any rate, there were no glaring anachronisms, like David LOL.

I do wish the author had used the names more familiar to me, like “Samuel” instead of “Shmuel.” I found myself changing the name to the more familiar one when I should have been concentrating on the story.

Even though this was a historically interesting book, I couldn't connect with the characters. I just didn't care about them enough. Sure, the women had horrible lives. Yes, there was more than enough brutality and cruelty to go around. But the author failed to make me empathize with the characters.

I'm glad I read this book, but it didn't engage me as I expected.

I was given an advance readers copy of this book for review.
… (more)
LibraryThing member smik
Note - this book is not crime fiction, although without doubt crimes are committed.
Reading it is part of my quest to widen what I read: to go beyond crime fiction.
I have already read the Pulitzer Prize winning PEOPLE OF THE BOOK by the same author.

When I was a child I had a jigsaw puzzle that showed a young, handsome David slaying Goliath of Gath with his slingshot. That image of David, son of Jesse of Bethlehem, ancestor of Jesus Christ and the reason why he was born in Bethlehem, has stayed with me for well over 60 years. But the picture of David in THE SECRET CHORD is a long way from the sanitised image of my jigsaw puzzle.

The description and account of David in THE SECRET CHORD is seen through the eyes of Natan, David's courtier who at times has prophesied events in David's life, and been at his side for decades. David has commissioned Natan to interview his mother and other family members to learn about the early events of David's life. The king will decide how much of what Natan writes down will be revealed. Natan is well aware that he is treading a dangerous line: the king is volatile and could well turn against him, and his family are not going to be willing to reveal deep secrets willingly.

Eventually we learn David's life history, taking us right through to the declaration of his heir. According to the author "David is the first man in literature whose story is told in detail from early childhood to extreme old age." I was staggered at how violent his life was, how much time was spent in waging war, and how his family almost self-combusted.

A fascinating read.
… (more)
LibraryThing member c.archer
This is a historical fiction account of the life of David. The biblical story has been fleshed out to give the author's take on David's life and kingship. While Geraldine Brooks takes much literary license and reflects her own view, she fleshes out the story in a way that is fascinating and highly readable. For those who might be offended by the embellishment of this story, I would recommend they take a pass. I very much enjoyed it as a work of fiction that is filled with supercharged action and intrigue.… (more)
LibraryThing member sleahey
This novel looks at the Biblical story of King David in considerable detail, based on Brooks's extensive research and imagination. Told from the point of view of Natan, David's seer and right hand man, the intricate relationships and politics and warfare of the time are described at sometimes numbing length. The characters names are in transliterated Hebrew, and a guide would have been helpful for this non-Biblical scholar reader. Since I read the galley, I can only hope the finished copy includes a glossary and map. Most interesting to me was the dilemma of Natan serving a king with whom he did not always agree, but for whom he felt extreme loyalty.… (more)
LibraryThing member michigantrumpet
Geraldine Brooks hits another out of the park with her King David brought to life in [The Secret Chord]. Through sources at the Harvard Divinity School Library, I happen to know her books are incredibly well researched. Brooks takes the bones of present scholarship on King David and, using glorious prose, adds sinew and flesh. One can almost smell the meat roasting on the spit, hear the blast of the war trumpets, and see the throngs in happy procession. Told through the voice of Natan, confidante and seer whom David has asked to write the history of his life. David decrees Natan shall speak with his mother, first wife and brother, who supply details of his early life: young goatherd ignored by his father and brothers, recognized by prophet Shmuel, killer of the giant, and beloved, by Shaul. From there Natan picks up the story himself, carrying us through many battles, rise to glory and accompanying tragedies. Brooks David’ is a large personality, full of life, charisma, faults and vainglory.

Some have said the use of Hebrew names and places are off putting. I felt this gave the tale even more verisimilitude. Many biblical women get short shrift. Brooks provides context and allows their stories to be told – the horror of Tamal’s rape by her brother, Amnon; Batsheva’s terror at the impossible position David had placed her; the countless women’s positions as mere political pawns to be married off and used. Hearing their stories anew and more fully was worth the effort alone. I found this a memorable book and recommend highly.
… (more)
LibraryThing member chasidar
I LOVED this book. I listened to the audiobook and the narrator was wonderful, really bringing the book alive. Geraldine Brooks does not disappoint and she does an excellent job bringing King David to life, his strengths, his flaws, his kingdom.
LibraryThing member brangwinn
Whoa, this wasn’t a story of the Biblical King David I was expecting! He’s wildly successful in the battle to become king, but he also is arrogant and his low points are spectacular, too. Brooks has chosen his prophet, Natan, to tell the story—a much more reliable historian than David. Battling family, claiming wives he desires, outsmarting foes describe David as does his remarkable ability to play the harp and sing. If I were to use one word to describe David, it would be “contradiction”. I love books that take the “holy” out of holy people and show them to be people with faults as well as strengths. I’ll be interested in hearing how this book is received among conservative Christians who see the Bible as literal. I’m not looking at reviews until finish writing my one. I wish I had read this book in traditional format rather than on the Kindle. There is such a cast of characters to keep track of, it would have been easier to page back to the list of characters in book form.… (more)
LibraryThing member KerryMarsh
The Secret Chord is the story of David of Israel from his childhood to his passing. Now I must confess all I knew of David was Michelangelo's statue and the story of David and Goliath. But David comes to life in all his glory and his failings in this book. Told from the perspective of his prophet, Brooks draws you in from the beginning. I laughed, cried and read on with suspense as the story unfolded. The use of old jewish names threw me a bit in the beginning, but not for long. I love history and I loved this story. - A copy of the book was provided for my unbiased review.… (more)
LibraryThing member drmaf
Lyrical and absorbing retelling of the life of David. Brooks largely strips the religious component from the story, and makes it a story of human triumph and failings. Narrated by his personal prophet Natan, the story begins with David's apotheosis with the slaying of Goliath, his eventual falling out with King Shaul and the bloody deeds he was forced into while fleeing for his life, his kingship, beginning in glory but eventually benighted by his lust and his brood of infighting children, and and slow decline. Natan is a very effective narrator, torn between his love and admiration for David and his disgust at David's frequent moral fails, such as his affair with Bathsheba, which leads to unexpected and long-lasting consequences. Natan is instrumental in the nurturing and education of David's youngest son Shlomo, who becomes a prodigy exhibiting signs of the great king he will become. Beautifully written economical prose that captivates, this a page-turner from beginning to end. Well worth the investment of time.… (more)
LibraryThing member maryreinert
The fictionalized story of King David. A truly flawed individual, yet an outstanding leader the story follows the Biblical story told in I Samuel. The setting is not modernized, but reflects the Iron Age when these event actually took place. Natum, the prophet, is the narrator.
LibraryThing member bookfest
I love Geraldine Brooks' grasp of history. She brings alive, in vivid detail, stories we thought we knew. The story of King David is not a flattering one. He was a soldier, his life filled with violence and, shall we say, strong appetites. Yes, he united the tribes. But often by violent means. And he often acted in selfish self-interest. The story is told through the eyes of a prophet who foretold his success and sorrows. Well done!… (more)
LibraryThing member tangledthread
a retelling of the story of King David from the bible, in the voice of his prophet, Natan. The author elucidates the perspective of women with a modern sensibility. And David is presented as a very flawed hero.....but that is true in the bible as well.
LibraryThing member oldbookswine
An excellent read written from the King's prophet viewpoint. The establishment of Israel and the rule of King David. Not exactly the Bible's story but one which seems to fit the real times. Excellent.
LibraryThing member rglossne
As always from Geraldine Brooks, well researched historical fiction, engaging characters, and a story that keeps you turning pages.
LibraryThing member arubabookwoman
This is historical fiction, a novelized account of the life of the Biblical King David, of David and Goliath fame. I had a very hard time getting into the book, as the first 150 or so pages were very slow moving and consisted primarily of accounts of battles, as David consolidated his power. I will say Brooks is quite graphic in her descriptions of gore and mayhem. I liked the second part better, as it incorporates the stories of Bathsheba, and the rape of Tamar.

However, overall this is not a successful novel. In the end, I felt that I learned no more about David and his life than I could have learned in the episodic accounts I read as a child in Bible stories. Perhaps this was due to the conceit of having the novel narrated by Natan, David's prophet, so that I never felt I was in David's mind, learning his thoughts, learning what motivated him. Brooks has said that her purpose was to show David as a "flawed" character, and the book did this, as it relates incidents of evil and incidents of good (although one person in my Book Club called the book "David-bashing."). But the book never reconciles these inconsistencies, and there is no narrative arc--just a series of incidents in the life of David.
… (more)
LibraryThing member mjlivi
This is hugely readable and brilliantly researched re-telling of the life of King David. Brooks has made the famous stories vivid and engaging, but is kind of hamstrung by the constraints of history. David is a hugely flawed character, whose brutal violence makes him almost impossible to sympathise with, even when he's portrayed as a charismatic leader and sensitive soul. Some of the narrative devices are a bit awkward (the interviews that Natan conducts with David's family particularly), and in the end it was a struggle to really care what happened to the King or his kingdom.… (more)
LibraryThing member novelcommentary
I have enjoyed the gifts of Geraldine Brooks -novels that bring historical events to life, usually through the eyes of interesting characters. The Pulitzer Prize winner, March was an excellent novel, depicting the absent father in Alcott's Little Women as he leaves behind his family to aid the Union cause in the Civil War. This novel also takes a small reference of the biblical prophet Natan and turns him into the narrator of the life of King David. In this way I found the novel similar to Miller's The Song of Achilles. In both novels, the stories of famous legends are told by the companion of the main hero. That being said, this was a good read, a bit of history that is made more fascinating through the abilities of the author. Natan became attached to David quite uniquely. David slays his father for not giving him some provisions for his men. Just as Natan attempts to seek his revenge, he has a vision, a prophecy that David will become the King of all of Israel , a united Israel. From this point on he becomes David's trusted advisor and his conscience. We read of the story of Goliath being defeated by the rock, of David's lust for women and for Jonathan and of his prowess in battle. There is, in other words, plenty of action. What is more interesting though is the intrigue of the politics, the varying plots to succeed the throne and how the sins of the father are repaid times four. I also enjoyed how the genesis for this novel may have stemmed from the Cohen song, "Hallelujah" . I too have always been intrigued by that opening line -" They say there was a secret chord that David played and it please the Lord. " I am not sure why, but I always love hearing that song. I suspect that I will continue to enjoy the works of Ms. Brooks as well.… (more)
LibraryThing member mojomomma
This was a "blind date book" that I picked out at the Library. I was seduced by the chocolate kiss attached to the brown paper cover and I was hungry! This turned out to an historical novel based on the life of David from the Bible, told from the point of view of his advisor and personal prophet, Natan. Puts a different spin on the old familiar Bible stories. David comes across as very human--pretty great, but with some significant flaws. There is also light shed on the life of women at that time which I found interesting. There is a "cast of characters" to help keep the characters and their relationships sorted out, which is helpful.… (more)
LibraryThing member MaximWilson
I was keen to read this since I was an avid bible student in my youth, and have visited Israel. However , it seemed so slow . I found myself preferring to find more lively accounts of these characters on the net, with lovely illustrations. I didn't like the alteration of the names , and I was constantly referring to the character list in the front of the book. The depiction of the relationship between Nathan and Solomon was charming. Where scholars were certain , Brooks took the airport novel option - like the robust homosexual affair between David and Jonathan. It was interesting to put myself in a culture that predates a police force , similar to the play 'Hamlet'., where the strongest win , justice is not assured. I was fascinated with the story of how David took over Jerusalem, by climbing up the town water supply tunnel.… (more)
LibraryThing member froxgirl
The story of biblical David, Michelangelo's magnificent sculpture, as inspired by Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah". This historical novel reads like a Greek tragedy - hubris, war, sorrow, children turning on their parents, gay men, and the eventual physical deterioration of the mighty. Solomon is actually the much more interesting character; too bad he was not the focus.… (more)
LibraryThing member Citizenjoyce
The story of David is important to all three major monotheist, patriarchal religions. In retelling this story Brooks maintains the biblical traditional emphasis on ego, violence, and misogyny. There's no more emotional connection with the characters than there is in the bible, also there's no explanation of why god, or the name, would choose this very flawed man to be the leader of his chosen people. Or is it just that absollute power corrupts absolutely? People who like and are familiar with biblical stories will probably find this very interesting.… (more)
LibraryThing member wagner.sarah35
While I loved People of the Book, unfortunately the subsequent things I've read by Geraldine Brooks I have not found nearly as engaging. This novel is about the Old Testament figure of King David and while I now am somewhat intrigued by this figure (and contemplating reading the Bible passages related to him), I can't say I truly enjoyed this novel. I felt the book was somewhat divided, as through the author started out on one track to tell the story and switched midway through. I will say that the author is an excellent writer, I just wished she'd spend more time developing this novel.… (more)
LibraryThing member rosalita
One of my favorite authors comes through again. This fictionalized account of the life of David (slewer of Goliath, king of Israel) presents a beautifully nuanced portrait of a man imbued with the power to do great good and also great evil.

David's story is told through the voice of Nathan, the prophet who first foretold that God had anointed David to unite and lead the tribes of Israel. Nathan loves David deeply but is not blinded to his weaknesses. Brooks did a superb job of letting the readers feel Nathan's love and his pain for David, as well as his sense of helplessness to prevent the tragedies that informed the latter part of David's life. The secret chord of the title refers to David's tremendous musical talents, as a singer, lyricist, and harpist. Music and excerpts from what I presume are Psalms written by David fill the narrative, giving Brooks another language to help her readers understand David's power.

I was familiar only with the barest sketch of the story of David, so I'm not qualified to judge how much or in what ways Brooks took fictional liberties with the accepted narrative from the Old Testament. And I suspect there are elements here that someone who believes in the infallibility of the Bible would find troubling, if not blasphemous. But for me, it was an extraordinary story of an extraordinary man, told in the most lyrical way possible.

I read this book for the Reading Through Time group's themed read for the second quarter of 2016: Ancient and Biblical Times.
… (more)




0670025771 / 9780670025770
Page: 0.2525 seconds