The Triumph of Deborah by Eva Etzioni-Halevy
Paperback: 368 pages
Publisher: Plume (February 26, 2008)
Review copy provided by the author, thank you!
The Burton Review Rating:
The richly imagined tale of Deborah, the courageous Biblical warrior who saved her people from certain destruction.
In ancient Israel, war is looming. Deborah, a highly respected leader, has coerced the warrior Barak into launching a strike against the neighboring Canaanites. Against all odds he succeeds, returning triumphantly with Asherah and Nogah, daughters of the Canaanite King, as his prisoners. But military victory is only the beginning of the turmoil, as a complex love triangle develops between Barak and the two princesses.
Deborah, recently cast off by her husband, develops a surprising affinity for Barak. Yet she struggles to rebuild her existence on her own terms, while also groping her way toward the greatest triumph of her life.
Filled with brilliantly vivid historical detail, The Triumph of Deborah is the absorbing and riveting tale of one of the most beloved figures in the Old Testament, and a tribute to feminine strength and independence.
This is a story that deftly interweaves itself through faiths and cultures and greed and power which is emphasized by Eva Etzioni-Halevy's fantastic storytelling through endearing characters from both sides of a war in ancient Israel. The novel begins as the women of the opposite sides are awaiting the news of the outcome of the battle, but we are then treated to a series of flashbacks and a buildup to the battle so much so that we are vested in both sides of the battle and wish for peace on both sides before we learn the outcome ourselves. A better educated person may be able to recall the outcome of the battle between the Israelites and Canaanites for which this novel is based. I had no idea so I had to do a quick wikipedia lookup to gain some further insight, because the suspense was too much for me.
The Bible tells us the story of a compelling woman named Deborah, who was a judge of the Israelites. In the novel, the author breathes new life into the era of the Judges and shows us all facets of the battle that Deborah helped to wage against the Canaanites and King Jabin. Most importantly in this story was Nogah, a young woman torn between the two conflicting faiths of the Israelites and the Canaanites. Nogah was the daughter of an Israelite slave, who later learns that her seemingly non-existent father is none other than King Jabin, believer of gods and goddesses. Although mother and father are worlds apart in culture, Nogah's heart is open to both of them and their views. It is through Nogah's eyes that we feel the strain of the wars and the conflict it causes between the two faiths.
Another key figure in the story is Barak, the leader who Deborah chose to lead the war against the Canaanites. He is an enchanter of women: they fall in love with him almost instantly, including Deborah and Nogah. The one who Barak wants, however, is another of the Canaanite King Jabin's daughters, Asherah. As Barak was the leader against the Canaanites and the perpetrator of death amongst her family and people, Asherah is unforgiving. Yet, she has little choice in the matter of her situation as a captive of Barak's. It was hard to connect with her due to her unforgiving nature which was a contrast to the other characters of the novel, but made for a well-rounded story. I was enthralled by the plot and the characters who were so vividly portrayed in alternating third person with an interesting timeline of flashbacks and their present times.
The author's prose was so fluid and addictive that I didn't want to put the novel down. And yet I valued the importance of the story in itself so I forced myself to savor the experience. The only quibble I had with the story was the way that it was saturated with sex. The women seemed overcome with lust especially where Barak was concerned and that became tiresome. The sexual scenes were told with grace, though, and the powerful storytelling outweighed the negative leanings I had due to the amount of sexual content of which I had been forewarned of.
I am so glad to have read this novel, and wish I had read it sooner. It is eye opening and poetic, and a must read for those who are intrigued by the history of religion and heritage of Israel, and it serves well for readers of historical fiction. I plan on also reading Eva Etzioni-Halevy's previous novels, The Garden of Ruth and The Song of Hannah. In biblical fiction, I have also read India Edghill's Delilah which I really enjoyed and I plan on reading more from India Edghill and Antoinette May as well. The genre of biblical fiction is vast and I must take baby steps, but after this fantastic read I know it is well worth the wait.