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.