Zoheleth is the tale of a frightened, broken child who meets with a broken man and his family, and together they find some healing. The broken man is David, so if you are familiar with his story you know that not all of his family finds healing. Zoheleth is the young boy who suffers a great deal in his early years, before meeting David. Eventually, it is Absalom who takes pity on the child and helps provide him with an environment of nurturing, after a sort, and finally healing. The relationships Zoheleth develops with Absalom, David, and their family are well developed, and the notion of how these relationships can both hurt and heal us is at the heart of the novel.
The historical and cultural milieu of Israel during David's reign is well represented in Hudson's novel. It is fun to read and consider how plausible the explanations the tale offers of certain passages of the Bible might be — which is always a big part of the fun of reading this sort of Biblical novel. I like Hudson's notions that there seem to be two different Davids presented in scripture — one in Samuel/Kings, and the other in Chronicles — and that the reasons for the differences in these two representations might be how close the authors of each text actually were to David and his family. Zoheleth is just the kind of character to give us a further behind the scenes look at the royal family of the time.
Readers who are very sensitive about crude language might find some discomfort in the mild cursing employed at some points in the novel. I would point out, however, that the language used is indeed "cursing" in its true sense, rather than the sorts of vulgarities we often associate with the term. I believe the language is employed to show the cursing of others that the Old Testament seems to have happened rather frequently, with the Psalmist David often complaining of his enemies cursing him and his biographer in Samuel also reporting that David was indeed the object of hurled curses, especially during the period depicted in the book. I say all of that only to point out that the book, while it does employ what some will find "offensive language," it does so in a manner that is probably quite appropriate for the story that is being told. In the same way, anyone familiar with David's story knows that there were plenty of offensive act perpetrated during the darkest days of the rebellion against the king, and readers should expect to find that plainly represented and discussed in the novel as well.
Overall, Zoheleth is a book I enjoyed reading, and I recommend it to others who enjoy finding Biblical narratives retold in fictional form.
© Shelly Bryant, 2012