Author: Eva Etzioni-Halevy
A PLUME book Fiction – Penguin
The following review was contributed by: Lily Azerad-Goldman: CLICK TO VIEW Lily Azerad-Goldman's Reviews
To read an interview with Eva Etzioni-Halevy CLICK HERE
After writing fourteen academic books and publishing numerous articles, Eva Etzioni-Halevy has written her first splendid, lusty novel that is based on a biblical tale and her own imagination.
According to Eva Etzioni-Halevy, the inspiration of The Song of Hannah emanated while she was attending services in her synagogue. As she listened intently to the biblical tale of Hannah, Pninah and Elkanah, she became greatly troubled. If you remember your Old Testament, Elkanah had two wives, Hannah and Pninah. Unfortunately, Hannah, during her early days of marriage to Elkanah, could not conceive a child, whereas Pninah had several, however, Elkanah favoured Hannah. It should be noted that eventually Hannah, after promising God that if he permits her to bear a son she will give that son back to Him as a Nazarite was rewarded with the son she craved for, Samuel, who ultimately became a renowned prophet and leader of Israel.
(The Hebrews gave the name Nazarite to a person set apart and especially consecrated to the Lord).
It was difficult for Eva Etzioni-Halevy to reconcile how the Scriptures show a great deal of compassion for Hannah, the barren woman, yet no empathy for Pninah, the unloved one. In fact, the name Hannah in Hebrew means grace or favour and in the bible she is represented as saintly and aggrieved. On the other hand, the beautiful shepherdess and scribe Pninah, is depicted as being the jealous one, constantly taunting Hannah. How could this unloved one, who must have been deeply pained, not be permitted to give voice or tears to her anguish? It is this sense of unfairness and intolerance that our author identifies with, thus prompting her to take up her cause in her novel The Song of Hannah.
Etzioni-Halevy poignantly reflects time and place in the eleventh century B.C when Israel was a polygamous society, as she weaves a twisting and meandering plot following the intricate inter-relations of these two women and the husband they share, as well as Hannah’s son Samuel. The story also interweaves the biblical tale of Samuel, who after having lived with the high priests at the Temple, becomes one of Israel’s greatest prophets. He was Israel’s last judge and the first priest and prophet to serve during the time of a king. It is he who visualized the ensuing wars and endeavoured to change the lives of the Israelites who were revelling in troublesome behaviour lusting for forbidden fruit and worshipping idols. We also witness Pninah’s devastation when her sons are obligated to enter the war with the Philistines. Arnon, her Canaanite lover, comes to the rescue and is instrumental in saving their lives. To complicate matters, when peace is restored, Samuel cannot conceal his attraction for Pninah, his father’s wife. Will he let his senses take over?
No doubt, it was the author’s intention to turn out an enjoyable read, however, in this case we can assert that the entertainment it affords can best be described as “the sugar that makes the medicine go down,” since the novel also incorporates some hidden feminist messages.
By permitting two biblical women to express their own voices, the narrative movingly portrays how they were able to face life in a patriarchal society. Although weak in their position, they were strong in character, discovering ingenious ways of promoting their interests. This is a book where entertainment, religion and feminism meet.
Etzioni-Halevy has seamlessly painted realistic characters living thousands of years ago with whom contemporary readers can readily identify, and portraying them as individuals with strengths, as well as with weaknesses, some of which stem from their sexuality.
Surprisingly, Eva Etzioni-Halevy’s mother tongue is not English. Yet, the language of The Song of Hannah is a work of art, and one of the novel’s strengths is the author’s uncanny ability to hone her words in sensual language devoid of vulgarism, effectively employing metaphoric expressions throughout such as, “women who did not guard their vineyard” (virginity).
The Song of Hannah gets top marks for its sheer delight and will surely sweep you off your feet, keeping you enthralled until the last word. I cannot wait for her next novels: The Garden of Ruth, scheduled to come out in January and The Palm Tree of Deborah on which Eva Etzioni-Halevy is still working.