Petsonk (The Intermarriage Handbook, 1991) returns with a fictionalized portrait of Salome Alexandra, Queen of Judea.
This historical novel dishes up a whirlwind blend of palace intrigue, bitter rivalries and shifting loyalties circa 100 B.C. in Judea’s Hasmonean dynasty. The central character is known as the Queen of the Peace of Zion (Shalom-Zion) for her attempts to balance various political factions, her alcoholic, impulsive and violent husband, and her strained relationship with their two sons. “Queen Shuli” and her ever-present handmaiden, Miri, serve as archetypes of the long-suffering, often-conflicted Jewish mother. As a result, some of the dialogue is perhaps too sharp, improbably modern and feminist in tone to be believable for the time period. Miri’s retorts, however, are usually amusing, echoing the sentiments of readers appalled by the violence and destruction within the novel. Interestingly, the narrative presents female sovereignty as the most ethical and well-balanced type of rule. Cleopatra III makes an elaborate appearance to declare that sons are always trouble and that dynasties tend to fall apart. As in other portrayals of bitter royal feuds, the novel’s characters are almost uniformly dysfunctional and mistrusting of one other. In particular, the narrator is too prone to self-censure for a female ruler of the time. Furthermore, the book attempts to compress several eventful decades into a book of less than 300 pages. Additional characterization would benefit the story, as some of the players remain aloof and ambiguous, particularly Yannai, Shuli’s emotionally troubled husband.
Despite its flaws, a romp of a novel, particularly for fans of Jewish history and culture.