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Eva Etzioni-Halevy – The Triumph of Deborah

August 29, 2008

105. The Triumph of Deborah by Eva Etzioni-Halevy (2008)

Length: 359 pages

Genre: Historical Fiction/Romance

Started: 26 August 2008
Finished: 28 August 2008

Many thanks to Eva for giving me the opportunity to read and review her newest book! Stay tuned for a Q&A with Eva herself!

Buy this book from Amazon

Summary: The Triumph of Deborah takes as its basis chapters 4 and 5 of the book of Judges in the Old Testament (which you can read here). It starts with the story of a battle between the Israelites, led by Deborah, a judge and prophetess, and by Barak, a great warrior and commander, and their enemies the Canaanites. The Israelites are victorious, and so Barak frees the Israelite women who were slaves to the king of Canaan, and takes the king’s beautiful daughter, Asherah, prisoner. But among the freed Israelite women who come to work in Barak’s household is Nogah, who is the illegitimate half-sister of Asherah. Barak desires Asherah for her beauty, but she views him as the murderer of her husband and father, and wants nothing to do with him. Nogah, on the other hand, loves Barak deeply, but fears for her future in a house where the master does not love her, and in a land that is not truly yet at peace.

Review: First, I’d like to give a little bit of reassurance to the apprehensive (as I was when I agreed to review this book): You do not need to know much about the Bible to understand what’s going on in this book, and you certainly don’t need to be familiar with the story of Deborah. I am also usually a little bit leery of reading stories with a strong religious background, for fear of proselytizing or evangelical overtones, but that worry was misplaced in this case as well; the religious aspects in The Triumph of Deborah were actually fairly light, and while Deborah and her compatriots obviously believed in and worshiped the Judeo-Christian God, the Canaanites weren’t treated as summarily evil because they didn’t, which I really appreciated.

The story itself was also not exactly what I expected. Judging from the title and the back cover, I was expecting a story focused on female empowerment and independence in a time and culture where such things were exceedingly rare. While elements of this certainly were present, the main focus of the book was the love triangle between Barak, Nogah, and Asherah, while Deborah appeared relatively infrequently. Consequently, it came off almost more as romance than straight historical fiction, although Etzioni-Halevy certainly did an excellent job of fleshing out biblical names into real, multi-dimensional characters. While the romance storyline was interesting and enjoyable, and while it was probably easier to write creatively about characters without a direct biblical basis, I think the book would have been stronger if it had put a little more emphasis on the socio-cultural aspects of the tale, particularly the culture clash between the Israelites and Canaanites, instead of focusing on the interpersonal and leaving the political to serve almost as bookends.

While this book was a fairly quick and light read, it did take me a while to get used to the flow of the writing. The dialogue and the prose both seemed to be consciously mimicking formal “biblical” language, which occasionally came off as slightly artificial, and while I settled into the rhythm of Etzioni-Halevy’s writing after about fifty pages, I think it may have kept me from getting really immersed in the world she created. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: A light, enjoyable historical-fiction/romance hybrid that should appeal to fans of books like Anita Diamant’s The Red Tent.

This Review on LibraryThing | This Book on LibraryThing | This Book on Amazon

Links: The Triumph of Deborah on Eva’s website, Penguin Group Reading Guide

Other Reviews: Literarily, BCF Reviews, Literary License

First Line: Two women were standing on high places, shielding their eyes from the blazing sun with their hands, peering into the distance in search of messengers from the battlefield.

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. September 2, 2008 1:11 pm

    Ooh, very interesting. I confess to a partiality for books that flesh out myths, allegories, biblical verse, etc. (e.g. the Canongate series). I’ll have to keep this one in mind.

  2. September 4, 2008 8:56 am

    I typically enjoy the re-writing of myths, legends, and old stories, etc., as well, although usually I go for more of the re-told fairy tale sub-genre. The only explicitly biblical-based one I’d read before The Triumph of Deborah was The Red Tent.

  3. September 14, 2008 7:10 am

    Thanks for the thoughtful review!

    If that is permissible on your blog, i would like to add some thoughts of my own about THE TRIUMPH OF DEBORAH.

    Apart from being a novel for light entertainment, it also pays tribute to Deborah’s strength, and shows how she may serve as a role model for modern women.

    Deborah lived in a male dominated society, where women were downtrodden: they had few legal rights and their position in the family was deplorable. Nonetheless she succeeded in “breaking the glass ceiling” and attaining an outstanding position as an exalted leader, who was highly revered by both men and women.

    Legally, the situation of women has improved out of all recognition since then. Also, women have many more options open to them today, than they had then. At the same time, today’s women face new and far from negligible difficulties, such that of combining partnership with a man and motherhood with a career.

    The lesson that women today can learn from Deborah is that if she could assert herself then, there is no reason that they should not be able to do so now.

  4. October 3, 2008 7:18 pm

    I enjoyed this book. Of course, historical romances are a favorite of mine. I did enjoy the biblical part. I, like you, was nervous about it at first, but enjoyed it.

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  1. Review: The Triumph of Deborah « Book Addiction

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