Geraldine Brooks’ The Secret Chord

david and goliath

David and Goliath, N.C. Wyeth

Geraldine Brooks is a writer of no ordinary skill. In Year of Wonders, People of the Book, Caleb’s Crossing and the Pulitzer-Prize winning March, Brooks achieves what all of us who are writers hope to achieve by creating a work of art, a big picture story by focusing her writing on the details of one person, one place, one story.

In The Secret Chord, Brooks turns her focus to the life of a man of no ordinary skill. David. Giant-slayer. Shepherd. Musician. King. A man, according to the Old Testament, after God’s own heart. It is an extraordinary book.

King David

Gerritt van Honthorst, King David Playing the Harp

A man alone in a room. Not such an extraordinary thing. Yet as I stepped into the chamber I had a sense of something out of place. My eye traveled around the space, the woven pillows, the low tables set with sweating ewers of cool water . . . all was in order, yet something was not right. Then I grasped it. It had been a while since I had found him in a room by himself.

. . . His fists, balled tight, were planted on the wide sill of the window embrasure, his arms encircled by polished copper cuffs. His hair, the same color as the copper, was undressed, and fell in a dense mane against the fine black wool of his mantle. The cuffs glinted in the low slant of early light as his arm muscles flexed. He was clenched from head to foot.

The Secret Chord relates the well-known Biblical incidents in David’s life through the eyes of those closest to him. King David tasks the prophet Nathan, our narrator, with compiling record of his life and from that beginning, Nathan sets out to interview David’s jealous brother, his loving (but guilt-ridden) mother, his first wife Mikhail and ultimately, Nathan finishes the story from the vantage point of his own decades-long relationship with the king.

Shammah, David’s brother speaks of his 14-year-old brother’s duel with Goliath, champion of the Plishtim foes. And in Geraldine Brooks’ skillful prose, the reader is right there at the feet, in the dust of Shammah’s courtyard, listening to a witness tell firsthand of one of the most legendary battles in history.

“All right. I’ll confess: We all of us wanted to see him put back in his place. And we all of us underestimated him. David saw his chance and he took it. . . . So it went on as it usually did. The Plishtim archers lined up, and so did we, with the usual field banging and insults. Goliath stepped out and called for his man. And there goes little brother, prancing in and out of the line, brandishing his staff. When Goliath saw him, he threw back his massive head and laughed. Well, why wouldn’t he? Does a gnat worry a bear? He yelled out to David, “Am I a dog that you come against me with sticks?'”

According to Brooks’ afterword in The Secret Chord, David is the first man in literature whose story is told from early childhood to extreme old age. Her choice to examine this story from the perspective of Nathan the prophet, the traditionally-recognized author of David’s story in the Biblical book of First Samuel, is a strong one. We discover the parts of David’s story as  Nathan does, gaining his perspective as well as our own.

If your book club chooses to read The Secret Chord by Geraldine Brooks, you may want to want this interview by with the author. It includes some of the beautiful art works associated with King David as well.

I couldn’t recommend a novel more highly. Enjoy!


Geraldine Brooks writes of all details of daily life of David, so she manages to include an impressive amount of food choices. From the novel: grapes, apricots, figs, soft bread, cheese, olives, a basket of flatbread, fragrant spiced (onion, cumin, coriander) grains, with yogurt to blend into the grains. Fat lambs turning on a spit, fowl roasting in clay ovens. And this, which I had to research: “bread and laban (strained yogurt), zait and zatar (extra virgin olive oil mixed with thyme).” And wine. Wine with everything.

I would begin with a tray of grapes, apricots, cheeses and olives


A big bowl of greek yogurt, plain

I’m going to order the zatar from a website I found. It sounds delicious and with many health benefits. Apparently, you’re to dip the bread into the olive oil and then into the spices.

Barley cooked with onion, cumin and coriander

Chicken. I don’t have a  clay oven, though I’d like one. So I found a recipe in my grandmother’s cache that sounds yummy.

Put 1 teaspoon garlic, salt and pepper on (a whole, cut up) chicken. Place in pan, skin side down, large pieces on outside of pan. Mix 1/2 teaspoon crushed oregano, 1/2 teaspoon grated lemon peel, 1/3 cup fresh lemon juice and 1/2 cup water. Pour over chicken. Bake 30 minutes in a 400 degree oven. Turn chicken and bake 30 more minutes. Baste during baking.


I will play harp music! Of course. I’ve found quite a list of downloadable music on Amazon of harp arrangements of the psalms.


David: Sam Heughan (recently of Outlander) PERFECTION!

Nathan: Adrien Brody

Abigail: Rachel Weisz

Mikhal: Natalie Portman

Bathsheba: Odeya Rush

Happy Reading and Eating!


Sam Heughan



Odeya Rush