The Reluctant General: A Novel from Ancient Jewish Writings

Written by Herb Sennett
Review by Susan Higginbotham

The Reluctant General tells the biblical tale of the unlikely, and triumphant, partnership of Barak, a humble farmer, and Deborah, the prophetess, who lead the outnumbered and untrained Israelite army to triumph over the oppressive Canaanites.

With plenty of action, this novel moves along quickly enough, but it is lacking in one important respect: characterization. People come and people go (usually through violent death), but they are largely interchangeable, and hopes that various characters might be fleshed out are soon dashed. Sadly, the two lead characters, Barak and Deborah, are no exception. At one point a subordinate of Barak’s works up the courage to tell Barak that he appears to be taking an unseemly romantic interest in the recently widowed Deborah, a hint at which Barak protests a bit too much, but what could have been an occasion to deepen our understanding of the protagonists is soon abandoned, as are similar opportunities, and ultimately we have little sense of the inner life of either. This lack of depth may not bother readers who simply enjoy battles, but one aspect of the novel, a revised edition of a book originally published in 2014, is likely to irritate readers of all persuasions: the glaring error (“reigns” for “reins”) in the closing paragraph. While this may seem a petty observation, last impressions, as well as first ones, matter.