Monday, January 18, 2010

Samson's Walls by Jud Nirenberg

Book CoverIn this fictional recreation of the biblical Samson story, a young woman is visited by an angel who announces that she will soon bear a special child to be raised as a Nazarite among her people. Growing up as a Nazarite, Samson must never pollute his body with wine or grapes, must not defile his spirit by being in close proximity to the dead, and must show his obedience to God through study and prayer. All of these guidelines that the boy must follow make finding real friendship and companionship with others a very difficult task for him, and when he decides to take a wife, he hopes that things will begin to change. Unfortunately, the family of the bride insults Samson in a way that he can't tolerate, spurring him to abandon his wife and take to the road in hopes of revenge. Thus begins the true tale of the life of Samson; warrior, scholar, and man of God. As Samson moves among the desert cities, he amasses followers and land, becoming a formidable leader of men. Both brutal and misunderstood, Samson longs to find someone to share his life with and discovers Delilah, a woman who will change the course of his destiny. Written with soberness and pragmatism, Samson's Walls gives a fresh voice to the tale of the man who had the strength of a hundred warriors and the lonely and angry heart of a nomad.

I must admit that the only thing I knew about Samson going into this book was the G-rated Sunday School stories of my youth. That is why I was so surprised and pleased to get a chance to pour over this retelling of Samson's story. First off, I think that Samson's character was really amped up in some great ways. I didn't have any trouble seeing why he was so distant and felt so superior to those around him. It was made very clear throughout the beginning sections of the book that Samson's every movement had been segregated from those of others and that he was never one to mix with those in the crowd. In addition, the fact that the relationship between him and his father was distant and stilted and the fact that he received more responsiveness from the Nazarite priests all came together in a really believable way and stressed the point that Samson was alienated and had a huge chip on his shoulder. I think creating the character in this way was a clever way for the author to make Samson multi-layered and to outfit him perfectly for the things he later attempts in the tale.

I also thought that the politics of the story were very well integrated into the narrative. There is a whole subplot running through the book dealing with the friction between the Hebrews and the Philistines that I thought was very well done. Since I am not really that well versed in Scripture, it was really very enlightening to me to discover that these two factions lived peacefully among each other but had skirmishes regularly and that each side wished to subjugate the other. When Samson comes along to fight for his people, the Hebrews begin to get a leg up on the battle that they could never dominate. This section of the story was very well developed and candid, and I really enjoyed the added intensity that it gave to the plot of the book. Had this not been the case, the book would have probably seemed very thin and underdeveloped.

The one thing that I had trouble with was Samson's eventual naiveté regarding Deliah's schemes. I couldn't believe that a man so cunning and strong could be so weak and trusting when it came to her deception. Of course, this was not the fault of the author. This is the actual meat and bones of the story as it appears in the Bible, so to change that aspect of things would have ruined the author's credibility in the area of fictional augmentation. In fact, Nirenberg does a wonderful job in his efforts to explain Samson's behavior, making his character mentally dance and twirl to the crazy ramblings of lust and hope that he feels for Delilah, despite the things she has already done. It just made me so mad that he couldn't see what was going on, and some of the time I was reading, I was screaming aloud to Samson not to be so stupid as to trust her again. But as a side note, I felt very appreciative to have become so invested in Samson and his story after having been so unmoved by my past few reads. I was grateful to the author for giving me such meat to sink my teeth into, and for creating a hero of such complex moral structure.

I think this is a book that would have wide appeal to many different types of reader. There is something here for almost everyone, from history to romance to battle scenes and action. Even though I knew the basics going in, I felt that this story was told with great novelty and skill and I had no trouble investing myself in it at all. I felt that this book had the perfect mix of modern storytelling mixed with a historical flavor that not only felt accurate, but believable as well. I enjoyed this read and think that both its unimposing length and accessibility would make the perfect drop-in read between heavier works.

This book was provided as a complimentary review copy.


Aarti said...

I don't know anything about this story from the Biblical sense, and I admit to having a lot of trouble picking up books that have a Biblical bent to them. I don't think I am able to separate the history from the religion very well and I often feel that even if there is historic evidence for things, it is often twisted to suit religious ends. In any religion, not just Christianity. So I don't think I'll read this one, but it sounds like it wasn't preachy or anything from your description, which is great!

A Bookshelf Monstrosity said...

This sounds so interesting! I'd never heard of a historical fiction book on Samson. This one's going on my reading wishlist.

bermudaonion said...

Wow! That sounds like quite a book. I'm like you, the only story I knew was the one I learned in Sunday School ages ago. Great review.

Suko said...

This book sounds very intriguing. Terrific review! I will add this to my wishlist.

Meghan said...

This book sounds really fascinating to me. I do like biblical fiction - I'm not religious at all so I generally don't mind what authors do to the stories - so I think I'm going to add this to my wishlist!

Marie Cloutier said...

Biblical fiction can be really interesting sometimes- thanks for this review. I'll take a look around for it!

Sms Tashan said...

This is a very nice and the amazing that you have done it i like very much please keep it up have a very nice day.

smstrends said...

Amazing sir nice post This sounds so interesting! I'd never heard of a historical fiction book on Samson. This one's going on my reading wishlist.

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