The Song of Hannah

Eva Etzioni-Halevy
  • Review
By – June 25, 2012
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.

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