PLUME (a Penguin Publication), 2005. ISBN 0452286727.
Reviewed by Lee Ambrose
Posted on 04/18/2006
"The tale of my son Samuel's birth and life has been told in a scroll that resides in the Temple, and in the scroll rooms across the Land of Israel. The people will read it now and in all the generations to come. But it contains only a small part of that which really happened." Thus begins "Hannah's Prologue"—the opening chapter of The Song of Hannah. And with that paragraph, the author drew me in, but her second paragraph cinched it. This was to be an 'all-nighter,' one of those books you just can't put down before reading just one more chapter and then another and another, and yet one more.
"And so I suggested to my husband's first wife, Pninah, that we each write a book that would reveal all that could not be laid bare in the House of the Lord," Hanna continues as she draws me in even further. "By the time you read these words, we are no longer of this earth. But I hope that because of Samuel our memories live on in your hearts. So you will wish to know about him, about us, all that has been concealed so far and has been recorded in this book for the first time." Now, if that doesn't make you want to read well into the night, I don't know what does.
Each chapter of this exquisitely sensual and revealing book is told by Hannah or Pninah. As children, Hannah and Pninah were best of friends. As young women, they held the distinction of being well educated in reading and writing, something almost unheard of for women of that time. Their close friendship survives the ultimate challenge... Both are wed to the same man, Elkanah. Pninah bears many children for Elkanah while, for many years, Hannah is barren.
Based on Biblical facts, readers learn of Hannah's promise to give her firstborn son back to God if he blesses her with a pregnancy. Samuel, one of the great Israelite prophets, was that firstborn son. Readers also learn of "escapades" by a less than faithful Pninah and the lengths that friends will go to protect one another and their children in a society that does not leave room for women to disobey or stray.
As Etzioni-Halevy tells the story of Pninah and Hannah, she also sheds light on the Israeli culture of the day, the religious ceremonies of the Jewish faith, the war between the Philistines and the Israelites, and how that war tore families apart. Above all, we are reminded that no matter how many hundreds of years ago these remarkable women lived, they experienced some of the same trials and tribulations, joys and blessings that women have universally shared since the beginning of time. No doubt, readers will see a bit of themselves in Hannah or Pninah or both women. Women's issues and female friendships are timeless treasures, and Etzioni-Halevy reminds us of this time and time again as she shares The Song of Hannah.
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