Sunday, October 7, 2018
Book Review: 'David & Avshalom: Life and Death in the Forest of Angels' by Bernard Mann
Israeli transplant author/poet/artist/landscape architect Bernard Mann moved from the United States to Israel in 1957. In 1964 he returned to the US to attend Harvard University to earn his Master's degree in landscape architecture and in 1968 won a Fulbright Scholarship at London University to research river cities in Europe. He has won the ASLA President's Award in analysis and planning as well as many additional awards. He has lived in the United States until now, creating art, writing poetry, and working as an expert in waterfront architecture.
Bernard Mann is a poet and a story weaver and a learned historian – and these factors aid in this creation of tie Romance (in the old sense of the term) of the life and influence of David. Reading this ‘biography’ is as stimulating as that of any great man or woman of history – true, documented, researched – but rendered with a tenderness and sensitivity that enhances our prior respect for David as slayer of Goliath, lover of Bathsheba, and King of Israel.
This approach is immediately evident in Bernard’s opening chapter – ‘He saw the spear out of the corner of an eye, hurtling at him. Left hand freezing on the lyre’s frame, he wrenched in some unearthly reflex to the right, every muscle from the soles of his feet through legs and torso flinching as one. The spear tip thudded into the cedar wall a finger’s length from his head, the shuddering shaft resounding in his ear and burned into memory for all time. The last chord played on the lyre, a sharshar of three good notes, echoed within the long throne room’s walls, innocently, incongruously. He looked up at the king, but only for an instant, only for a fleeting second in that bloody moment of ugly menace, and spun and rose and strode from the hall. He had seen the hate and anger in Saul’s eyes, the hand that threw the spear now shaking menacingly at him and the bull voice roaring. These, too, were seared into his mind forever. The king’s bellowing came at David first from ten paces away, then pursued him through the throne room’s door and down the palace corridor. “You treacherous bastard!” was the reverberating shout, rolling and echoing like thunder in a canyon. “You surely deserve to die! And you’ll not be so lucky next time, you low-crawling, string-plucking unworthy son of a snake! “Go! Run like the village dog that you are!” And then silence. But David, even as he left the palace entry, nodding to his perturbed guards, men under his command who defended this miserable king’s life, could see Saul in his mind’s eye, seated again on his raised throne under the bullock carving, head lowered onto his clutching hands, sobbing in that strange mixture of explosive ire and remorse that belonged to the tall and broad-shouldered and troubled son of Kish.’
Bernard’s intent is spelled in his synopsis – ‘This telling of the life and times of David the king goes well beyond the typical story line, into the exploration of little known story arcs -- the adoption by David of the Hittites' compound bow and large archer companies enabled Israel to throw off Philistine domination. His friendship with Hiram of Tyre and other rulers led to never-broken peace and successful maritime engagements with the Phoenicians. His willingness to help defend Canaanite Taanach signaled peace with Canaanites and his marriage with Maacah allowed peace with Geshur, other peoples of the north. Even more striking was his respect for women writers, including Judith, who wrote much of the books of Genesis and Exodus, and Seraiah (my name for this author), who wrote the Book of Ruth. The roles of Bathsheba in Palace affairs and Maacah in her tragic sorrow over son Avshalom's (Absalom's) rebellion are illuminating. All in all, this saga is one of high drama and warm insights into personal and national life in ancient Israel.’
Brilliantly written and emotionally uplifting, this is David as few of us have completely understood him – a giant among men and kings. Highly Recommended. Grady Harp, October 18
Editor's note: This review has been published with the permission of Grady Harp. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.