Thursday, September 11, 2008

The Triumph of Deborah by Eva Etzioni-Halevy - 368 pgs

Book CoverThe Triumph of Deborah tells the story of Deborah, Asherah, and Nogah, three women who must find their true path despite the difficulties that fate has dealt them. Deborah, an illustrious woman from the Bible, is widely known and respected for her role as a prophetess and judge to the Israelites. When Deborah receives a prophecy from the Lord that tells her that she must bring peace to the Israelites, she tries to negotiate peace between them and the Canaanites. But she is met with failure. She decides to persuade the great warrior Barak to form an army and defeat the Canaanites, an endeavor that proves to be successful. Upon his vanquishment of the Canaanites, Barak takes Asherah and Nogah, both daughters of the defeated Canaanite king, as captives in his home. Asherah, the legitimate daughter of the king, detests Barak and wishes to destroy him for killing her people. This is a problem for Barak, as he wishes to make Asherah his wife. Nogah, the illegitimate daughter of the king who was raised as a servant, feels differently about the man who has taken her captive. Despite her lowly position as his housemaid, Nogah falls desperately in love with Barak and must console herself with the fact that she doesn't exactly fit his notions for a wife. Meanwhile, Deborah begins to have problems in her marriage, and turns to Barak for affection and attention. The three women must examine and resolve their feelings for Barak and each other.

Despite the biblical roots of this story, I found that it was not a heavily religious text. Most of the action revolves around the three women and each one's relationship to the man they have in common. Though the book is ostensibly about Deborah, she was perhaps the woman who was least focused on in the narrative. Despite her scarcity, I found her to be the most enjoyable character of the lot. She was the only female able to look at situations in an unguarded and altruistic way. Her legendary composure and forthrightness was refreshing and enjoyable. I found that Deborah had a presence of mind that was not affected by jealousy or pettiness, and she had the ability to draw intelligent conclusions whether she was focused on battle, love, or religion.

On the other hand I didn't really understand Nogah's devotion to Barak. I never really saw good qualities in him. He was a notorious womanizer and seemed very selfish. Where Asherash's feelings of resentment towards Barak were plausible and valid, Nogah's feelings for him didn't seem all that realistic. He had very few positive personality characteristics, and Nogah's all-consuming love for him made her seem weak willed and naive. While I liked her character and enjoyed reading about her, I was silently wishing for her to move on with her life and find a man who would be able to love and appreciate her like she deserved. Despite Barak's prowess on the battlefield and his eventual evening out in temperament, I really didn't like his character. It was never really clear just why he was so attractive to the opposite sex, and despite his kind treatment of the women he bedded, he was shallow and vainglorious. I can't say that he was a total disappointment; there were aspects of his personality that were somewhat intriguing and benevolent, but overall he was a character that was hard to connect to and sympathize with.

One of the things that was great about this book was the way it handled the religious aspect of the story. It was informative but not preachy. It made no judgement calls on the validity of polytheism, and the central focus of the story was not evangelism. Where many biblical fiction books get caught short in sermonizing, this book was just the opposite. It didn't attempt to moralize or judge the situations or characters involved, and the effect was a more even keeled and readable story. Another thing I particularly liked was the level of historical detail. Though I knew the story of Deborah, the author did a great job of explaining the reasons and ramifications of the war between the Canaanites and Israelites, and how this war affected those who were part of it.

Despite finding some of the characters to be quite unsympathetic, I did enjoy the book and thought that the subject matter was handled very well. Though this was a historically accurate book, the main focus was on interpersonal relationships. The author did a good job of creating an enthralling story of three women from very different backgrounds and their struggles with love. I would recommend this book to those who like romance and intrigue in addition to those readers of biblical and historical fiction.


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