The King David Report

Stefan Heym

Quartet Books 1977


Torgny Lindgren

translated from the Swedish by Tom Geddes
Harvill Press 1989
A book review by Danny Yee © 1994
A retelling of one of the oldest stories in the world, Bathsheba is an account of the later part of King David's rule. It is an earthy, emotional novel full of vividly memorable characters, who attain mythic status while retaining their humanity. The familiar figures — Uriah the Hittite, Tamar, Absalom, David, Amnon, Joab, Mephibosheth, Nathan and, above all, Bathsheba herself — and a couple of original minor characters are given room to grow and really come to life. More than just the story is taken from the Old Testament; Lindgren's language has the cadence of biblical models and he handles the powerful (and easily misused) tool of mytho-poetic abstraction with skill.

Despite a similar setting, Stefan Heym's The King David Report is a very different novel. It tells the story behind the creation of the biblical account of King David's rule. Ethan the historian is called upon by king Solomon to write "The One and Only True and Authoritative, Historically Correct and Officially Approved Report on the Amazing Rise, God-fearing Life, Heroic Deeds and Wonderful Achievements of David, Son of Jesse". He has to balance his own commitment to the truth with the conflicting views of various court factions as to what should be included. The result is both a kind of historical mystery, with the "real" events of the reign of David gradually revealed through Ethan's investigations, and a political satire (Stefan Heym was an East German, familiar with historical revisionism). This aspect isn't laboured, however, and the result is an entertaining, humorous novel with a serious kernel. The King David Report is one of my favourite historical novels.

Both The King David Report and Bathsheba will be enjoyed by devotees of historical fiction; both are fine novels in any context. While both Lindgren and Heym have used the text of the Old Testament as a launching pad, reading between the lines of the biblical account and offering their own guess at the reality behind the words, their novels evoke very different worlds. The King David Report stresses the similarities between the past and the present; the world of Bathsheba is both more immediate and more alien. My advice is to avoid making a choice and to read both.

March 1994

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Related reviews:
- Stefan Heym - The Queen Against Defoe: And Other Stories
- more German literature
- books about Judaism + Jewish history
- more Scandinavian literature
- more historical fiction
- more political fiction
- books published by Harvill Press
- books published by Quartet Books
- other "best book" selections
%T The King David Report
%A Heym, Stefan
%I Quartet Books
%D 1977
%O paperback
%G ISBN 0704331594
%P 254pp

%T Bathsheba
%A Lindgren, Torgny
%M Swedish
%F Geddes, Tom
%I Harvill Press
%D 1989
%O paperback
%G ISBN 0002712717
%P 249pp