The Song of Hannah joins The Red Tent, as well as other recent titles like Queenmaker and The Gilded Chamber, in the successful genre of sensual, feminist reimaginings of Jewish heroines. As the story of two Biblical women, Hannah and Pninah (Samuel I), The Song of Hannah is a compelling exploration of love, jealousy, war and prophecy. The narrative alternates between Hannah’s and Pninah’s first-person narratives — as one might expect, the perspective of passionate, headstrong, occasionally sinful Pninah is the more interesting. Probing beyond the words of the Bible, the novel portrays the human side of a prophet, whose message becomes more forgiving over time. It also makes the most of unexplained events, such as why Samuel chose to return to his father’s hometown after nearly an entire life away. Beyond the exploration of the internal Israeli issues of the 11th century BCE — the intimate relations between neighboring Israelites and Canaanites, the role of woman scribes, the repercussions of polygamy — is also the timely story of a territorial dispute between the Israelites and the Philistines. The novel expressly points to the loss, on both sides, of the ensuing war. Occasionally stiff prose is counterbalanced by the power of the story, which will appeal to readers who are willing to grapple with less than flattering portraits of biblical figures, and be swept away in the drama of a vividly reimagined biblical narrative.
Phoebe Spanier, previously Phoebe Sorkin, works in the editorial department of Little, Brown and Company Books for Young Readers.