Monday, January 13, 2014

Ideal choice for a book club

Yael Politis is an author and translator, and her three historical novels The Way the World IsOlivia, Mourning and The Lonely Tree are exquisitely written. So I am deeply honored that she posted this review for my new release, Rise to Power

5.0 out of 5 stars Reading between the linesJanuary 13, 2014
Yael Politis (Pardes Hanna, Israel) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Rise to Power (The David Chronicles) (Kindle Edition)
The stories of the Old Testament occasionally let us in on the characters’ thoughts and motivations, but for the most part only describe what those characters say and do and leave the interpretations to us. In Rise to Power Ms. Poznansky offers us her interpretation of the story of King David’s rise to power (First Samuel). She does not change the stories, so no need to worry about spoilers in a review - Goliath still loses. But she overcomes the lack of suspense about what’s going to happen next and keeps us turning pages by presuming to have privy to David’s emotions and mental processes. And it is a stunning accomplishment.

There are some real gems. My favorites of young David’s musings:
“So I make a mental note to myself: from now on, avoid talking to historians. Avoid it at all cost—unless, of course, they belong to me.”
“Trust me: you must marry her,” he says, “because glory is fleeting, but obscurity is forever.”
“Knowing that her eyes have betrayed love, now her voice denies it.”
”And trapped in that skinny body, pounding there with palpable longing, is the heart of a woman, a proud woman, cursed with love.”
“I can’t bring myself to kill her.” “Why not?” “I don’t love her that much.”
”If I obey my whim, if I kill Saul now and announce myself king in his place, how can I hope to be obeyed, when the sanctity of the crown is violated? How can I hold on to power, when I am the one to have defused its magic?”
”I take no one alive, man or woman, to be brought to Gath, not because I have any particular objections to slave labor—but because they have seen too much and have little to lose, so unlike the trusty historians, they may tell the truth about me.”
”Sometimes I wonder who came up with the bright idea of separation between religion and state. God knows he must be an idiot. Up to now, my men have regarded me as their military commander and political leader. Now I rise up higher in their eyes. Despite the fact that I do not walk with God, they think I can talk with Him.”
“To my fighters, this may seem like a debatable decision. I do not mind it, really, because there is nothing better than controversy to increase my fame.”

I think this book would be an ideal choice for a book club because it offers so much for discussion. In one of the quotes above David muses about the separation of religion and state. Had that concept been implemented anywhere on earth yet? I doubt it, but actually have no idea. But even if not, I don’t think of something like that as a mistake on the part of the author, but rather a statement that leads us to our own musings about the past. Another example of that is how quickly David’s fame as the slayer of Goliath spread and how many people seemed to recognize who he was without being told. How? Were flyers of his likeness distributed?

The language of the book is another subject I would like to hear discussed. The only thing I didn’t like about Rise to Power was the frequent use of modern slang. I realize the author’s problem: she wants her characters to speak in the vernacular, but does anyone have a clue as to what that would have been? What kind of slang existed in Biblical times? And knowing that wouldn’t help in any case - since there was no English then, there is obviously no contemporary English equivalent to be had. So it is a problem that I don’t know how I would solve, though I feel there must be a better solution than using American teen slang adopted in the 1950s - such as “he goes” to mean “he says” or “out to lunch” to mean crazy or “nuts” to mean crazy (that’s actually recorded from 1846, but still modern for a story taking place in the first century BCE). The F-word (Amazon wouldn’t let me write it) is in a different category. It is a very old word - first recorded in print in the early 1500s and so should perhaps sound “old” enough to placate me. But considering how overused ad nauseam that word is, I think I would have preferred that the author simply make up some words. For me, words like the F one only pulled me out of the text and got me pondering about the language, rather than the story. If the whole book were written in that type of slang, that would be an entirely different experience - and not one I’m sure I would enjoy - but it is not. Most of the language sounds “King James-like” enough and “Alas” makes frequent appearances. So for me, the modern intrusions break the flow. Not enough, however, to make me stop reading. And as I stated above, this would be a great topic for a lively discussion, and I found myself willing to ignore this and some editing issues.

When Ms. Poznansky gets it right, she gets it brilliantly right and despite its flaws I thought this was an exceptionable book. I highly recommend it.

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