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Joseph Heller's powerful, wonderfully funny, deeply moving novel is the story of David -- yes, King David -- but as you've never seen him before. You already know David as the legendary warrior king of Israel, husband of Bathsheba, and father of Solomon; now meet David as he really was: the cocky Jewish kid, the plagiarized poet, and the Jewish father. Listen as David tell Joseph Heller's powerful, wonderfully funny, deeply moving novel is the story of David -- yes, King David -- but as you've never seen him before. You already know David as the legendary warrior king of Israel, husband of Bathsheba, and father of Solomon; now meet David as he really was: the cocky Jewish kid, the plagiarized poet, and the Jewish father. Listen as David tells his own story, a story both relentlessly ancient and surprisingly modern, about growing up and growing old, about men and women, and about man and God. It is quintessential Heller.


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Joseph Heller's powerful, wonderfully funny, deeply moving novel is the story of David -- yes, King David -- but as you've never seen him before. You already know David as the legendary warrior king of Israel, husband of Bathsheba, and father of Solomon; now meet David as he really was: the cocky Jewish kid, the plagiarized poet, and the Jewish father. Listen as David tell Joseph Heller's powerful, wonderfully funny, deeply moving novel is the story of David -- yes, King David -- but as you've never seen him before. You already know David as the legendary warrior king of Israel, husband of Bathsheba, and father of Solomon; now meet David as he really was: the cocky Jewish kid, the plagiarized poet, and the Jewish father. Listen as David tells his own story, a story both relentlessly ancient and surprisingly modern, about growing up and growing old, about men and women, and about man and God. It is quintessential Heller.

30 review for God Knows (Limited Edition)

  1. 5 out of 5

    Scott Rhee

    In Joseph Heller's novel "God Knows", the Jewish protagonist is an old man named David, looking back with bittersweet fondness but mostly regret at his turbulent life: numerous marriages, ungrateful children, constant battling with in-laws and relatives, and a God that seems to have either forgotten or forsaken him. It may help to know that the David in the novel is King David, of the biblical account, kvetching on his death bed about what a mess his life has become but mostly because he can't g In Joseph Heller's novel "God Knows", the Jewish protagonist is an old man named David, looking back with bittersweet fondness but mostly regret at his turbulent life: numerous marriages, ungrateful children, constant battling with in-laws and relatives, and a God that seems to have either forgotten or forsaken him. It may help to know that the David in the novel is King David, of the biblical account, kvetching on his death bed about what a mess his life has become but mostly because he can't get it up anymore. Indeed, the penis jokes abound throughout this novel, which reads like a weird combination of Thomas Pynchon, Woody Allen, and John Updike, except that it is vintage Heller: serious, funny, seriously funny. Written as a kind of disjointed series of memoirs from the perspective of an aging David, the novel covers just about every facet of the biblical figure: his infamous defeat of the giant named Goliath, his many marriages (but mainly focusing on Michal, Abigail, and Bathsheba), the many battles and wars that his father-in-law Saul waged against him, the death of his first child which leads to his falling-out with God, and his moronic son Solomon whom, he is afraid, will succeed him as king. Heller manages to write a believable historical account while cleverly incorporating anachronisms (David whines about Shakespeare's prose and how the Bard basically plagiarized some of his own Psalms and Proverbs, and he also bitches about Michelangelo's famous statue of him, which inaccurately depicts David with a foreskin! But what do you expect from a goy sculptor?). This book is, at times, hilarious and moving and downright sad. It is also probably one of the best novels I have read that attempts to breathe some life into the Old Testament stories. In Heller's brilliant hands, King David becomes a flesh-and-blood human being, with real mensch-like problems.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Brian

    “All my life I have wanted to be in love.” “God Knows” is a unique work. It is Joseph Heller’s retelling of the story of the Biblical King David as a bitter old Jewish man facing the end of life without his God and the greatest love of his life (Bathsheba). I will say off the bat that biblical knowledge is a big plus (and possibly also necessary) in order to get the most enjoyment out of this text. The novel is a funny one, and many times while reading I laughed out loud or at least chuckled. Mr. “All my life I have wanted to be in love.” “God Knows” is a unique work. It is Joseph Heller’s retelling of the story of the Biblical King David as a bitter old Jewish man facing the end of life without his God and the greatest love of his life (Bathsheba). I will say off the bat that biblical knowledge is a big plus (and possibly also necessary) in order to get the most enjoyment out of this text. The novel is a funny one, and many times while reading I laughed out loud or at least chuckled. Mr. Heller was a good writer. Especially humorous are the conversations between David and his “wise” son Solomon. They are a highlight of the book. Another nice touch are the many anachronisms peppered throughout the text. David refers to 20th century events along with those of very ancient times. It is a clever gambit, as are the insane amount of allusions & lifted lines from many of western literature’s greatest writers. Especially Shakespeare. There were so many lines from his works that I lost count. Other writers whose works I caught (and I am sure there are many I did not) included the Romantic poets, Dickens and others. David constantly complains about how many of the great writers plagiarized him, so the device gives a little bit more enjoyment to the text for the reader who catches them. This also allows for a imaginative moment where we learn the “true” origins of the famous “The Lord is My Shepard” Psalm. However, Heller does get bogged down at times in some mundane details. Chapter 9 of this book is especially hard to endure. The novel is good, but it is a slow read. The text could have lost 50 pages and would have been no worse for it. “God Knows” presents a bitter version of David that some readers might not appreciate. It is not an uplifting book. The ending is biting. A man misses his God, and he misses the love of a woman. It is not a story one would want to live out in their own life.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Jamie

    I was the kid in Sunday school the poor teachers must’ve hated: peeking behind the curtain, pulling the strings on our tidy little Bible lessons to go wide-eyed and watch the real, wild Bible go up in flames. I guess it’s a habit I never outgrew. So there you have me, ever the rebel kid still, relishing the secret that behind all those prettily bow-tied morals are wild kings and bloodbaths and blasphemous sacrilege that no one’s paying any mind. And here you have Joseph Heller. Since Catch-22 I’ I was the kid in Sunday school the poor teachers must’ve hated: peeking behind the curtain, pulling the strings on our tidy little Bible lessons to go wide-eyed and watch the real, wild Bible go up in flames. I guess it’s a habit I never outgrew. So there you have me, ever the rebel kid still, relishing the secret that behind all those prettily bow-tied morals are wild kings and bloodbaths and blasphemous sacrilege that no one’s paying any mind. And here you have Joseph Heller. Since Catch-22 I’ve never wanted to read another of his novels, as one of the two highest compliments possible. I definitely didn’t want to read the sequel to Yossarian in Closing Time (how could I, when the first is so perfect?), and wouldn’t the others just be shadows of that beloved one too? Like that favorite song on an album where the rest can never live up. All because I had no idea Heller took on King David. As soon as I saw this book on the library shelf I jumped on the premise as ecstatic as Joab on that fifth rib. Ohh-h, did I love this book. Through and through, wrestling Catch-22 like Samson with a hand tied behind his back. The old Sunday-school feeling of getting deep over my head in trouble, of “Oh-h I am gonna get it for this,” only made the pleasure that much sweeter. I don’t think there’s much middle ground for it, either. I think you have to love it or you have to hate it with a fiery, book-burning passion. Which should be just as much fun. Leave it to Heller to read the same Bible I have. The Bible that isn’t tidy, that doesn’t make sense, that isn’t abstract saints in stained glass. It’s full of people who are complex and tainted and do belligerent and insensible things. Who are as brave and scared shitless as any of us, who are bursting with love and hate and cruelty and the most dangerous kind of humanity and passion. They laugh. They live. They royally screw up and get royally screwed. And I can’t help but think, this is the David those old stories are trying to tell. Not the serene shepherd, the psalmist, the stalwart king. No: the scrappy, stubborn, cocky, off his rocker, wild, maddening, bitter, beloved kid, utterly sincere and utterly full of shit, heels over head for Bathsheba, burning the kingdom down in flames. The chosen king of this nonsensical God, a God of cryptic riddles, burning bushes and incomprehensible demands. We’re the ones that tried to tame it into sainthood. We’re the ones that do the story in all of its human absurdity the injustice. Heller’s just someone putting a little flesh and blood back onto the bones: deftly, hilariously, reverently irreverent, with that turn of the knife in your heart all along. I’m just the one over here, loving every word of it.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Simon Mcleish

    Originally published on my blog here in May 2004. Even for the most dedicated Heller fan, and the impact of Catch-22 created vast numbers of them, his second and third novels are frequently heavy going. But then eventually (over twenty years into his career, for he was never a particularly prolific novelist) came God Knows - immediately accessible, hilariously funny and wickedly subversive. The idea behind God Knows is simple. David, King of Israel, author of the psalms, recounts his life while on Originally published on my blog here in May 2004. Even for the most dedicated Heller fan, and the impact of Catch-22 created vast numbers of them, his second and third novels are frequently heavy going. But then eventually (over twenty years into his career, for he was never a particularly prolific novelist) came God Knows - immediately accessible, hilariously funny and wickedly subversive. The idea behind God Knows is simple. David, King of Israel, author of the psalms, recounts his life while on his deathbed, in the voice of a twentieth century American Jewish patriarch. To work, this has to be done extremely well, as is it no easy thing to write a narration that convincingly comes across as being from the mind of a man recognised as one of the greatest poets in history. Apart from the difficulty in matching up to his literary merit, David is an excellent choice for this type of novel. He has quite a lot of space devoted to him in the Bible, which records many fascinating events in his life but which also leaves room for Heller to expand on the characterisation of him and those around him (Heller's portrayal of Solomon is particularly amusing). The picture painted of him is neither black nor white in 2 Samuel in particular is neither black nor white morally, making him a more interesting subject for a novel than (say) the prophet Daniel. And there is his importance as an influence on history and an icon for Jewish culture - it is no accident that the star of David was made the symbol of the Zionist movement and now appears on the flag of the state of Israel. (As he asks out at one point, "Does Moses have a star?".) A lot of the humour in God Knows stems from the use of anachronism in a way that reminds me of Caryl Brahms and S.J. Simon. An example of the type of joke used is when David tells his generals to "send a wire", only to be reminded that telegrams haven't been invented yet (the joke being not only that they don't exist, but also that every one knows what they are). This kind of humour is one which quickly becomes wearing, so it's good that Heller doesn't use it to excess; it would have been easy to put jokes along these lines into every paragraph, and that would have killed the novel stone dead. He also makes most of its uses more subtle than the example I've given. Much more pervasive is the use of anachronism in a more indirect form, as Heller gives characters stereotypical Jewish roles from twentieth century America; this also introduces an element of satire. David's life inclded a fair amount of personal unhappiness, so God Knows is not a sunny novel, even if the humour in it is not as bleak as that in Heller's earlier novels. It is part of the Jewish father stereotype to complain about his children, but David really had a lot of grief from his - the death of Bathsheba's first child, slain by God as punishment for David's sin in sleeping with another man's wife and sending her husband to his death; the rape of his daughter Tamar by his son Amnon; the rebellion of his son Absalom. (And Heller adds the stupidity and humourlessness of his son Solomon - "Schlomo, that schmuck".) However, to Heller, David's relationship with God was the most significant in his life, and though he makes David make light of it, it is clear that the character regrets the withdrawal of God's voice of guidance more than anything else (this was another consequence of his adultery with Bathsheba). From a literary point of view, God Knows is one of the least significant of Heller's novels. On the other hand, it is among his most accessible and enjoyable - and it will make you laugh out loud.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Yair Ben-Zvi

    Catch-22 by Joseph Heller is my favorite novel. Not my favorite novel of Heller's, not my favorite American novel, but my favorite novel I've read as of this writing. I've written multiple papers about it and, more than likely, will write about it again in times to come. It said and did things I didn't think were possible in the form of a novel, in the form of anything, really. So it was with significant misgivings I went into God Knows. I feared it would be a decidedly minor work, a bloated and Catch-22 by Joseph Heller is my favorite novel. Not my favorite novel of Heller's, not my favorite American novel, but my favorite novel I've read as of this writing. I've written multiple papers about it and, more than likely, will write about it again in times to come. It said and did things I didn't think were possible in the form of a novel, in the form of anything, really. So it was with significant misgivings I went into God Knows. I feared it would be a decidedly minor work, a bloated and wheezing gas bag of a formerly great novelist resting on his laurels and not so much creating a work as scratching a wandering itch. But I was wrong. I was very wrong. As I've just finished the novel I am not now able to say whether God Knows is worse than the earlier Catch, I won't say it's better, but it might, in its own way, be just as good. And why is this? Because Heller through his delineation of the life and times of King David, a parody told at times in a pseudo-Biblical English and at times a Borscht Belt patois, bull rushes between a particularly Jewish self-deprecatory slyness and maudlin introspection touching on all the themes Heller knows so intimately. These themes: life, death, youth, age, love, lust, regret, are all woven with the mastery that comes only with an authorial skill hard earned and little regarded. A more Conservative Jewish mindset might write this work off as simply "self-hating" and others might deride the tonal shifts being so at odds. But, if you'll indulge me, I feel Heller, intentionally or not, has constructed a work in the mold of its own protagonist. This novel, like the titular David, is brilliant but also ignorant, strong but also weak, a lover but also a philanderer, fit but also decrepit. In short: this novel concatenates together the various prisms of Diasporic Jewish identity through the lens of the Biblical that few other writers inside or outside of Israel would dare to even attempt, let alone complete. But Heller does it. Flawed as the work is, he did it. In reading this we see the ultimate tragedy of life and aging, of the glorious pleasures of love and victory, and degradation and shame, all under the auspices of God's near to complete silence. This is the journal of a Jewish soul. Beautiful, flawed, singular in its generality to that one people, mine, that has suffered so much for so little, and been made so ugly, and somehow so fucking beautiful because of this suffering. Read this book. Withstand it and endure it; once you have you will see just how maddening, how funny, how ignorant, and how unutterably genius the Judaic soul can be.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Chloe

    Having been a huge fan of Catch-22, I had been curious to read more of Heller's work for a long time. Something Happened, his follow-up to Catch-22, is the book that I had heard the most about- mainly that it was a challenging read that left many of his fans reeling and wondering whether he had lost his knack for finely honed satire. I had never even heard of God Knows until it was placed in my hands last week with the recommendation that it was "like Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Having been a huge fan of Catch-22, I had been curious to read more of Heller's work for a long time. Something Happened, his follow-up to Catch-22, is the book that I had heard the most about- mainly that it was a challenging read that left many of his fans reeling and wondering whether he had lost his knack for finely honed satire. I had never even heard of God Knows until it was placed in my hands last week with the recommendation that it was "like Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal for the Old Testament set." I guess that is an apt description as far as the content is concerned. The tale consists of the late life reminiscences of King David, the mighty slayer of Goliath, as he reflects upon his successes and (far more) failures and tries to decide which of his two remaining sons, Solomon or Adonijah, to pass the throne of Israel to upon his death. Where it differs from Moore's classic biblical farce, however, is that it's just not funny. Period. There are moments where I admit that I tittered, but for the most part it was just an old man grousing about all the fine tail he used to get back in the day, ruing his impotence, and trying to take credit for writing Hamlet and inventing microwave ovens (anachronisms run rife throughout the pages of this book). If you like your curmudgeons with little-to-no redeeming qualities, then you may enjoy God Knows far more than I ended up doing. Still, I actually finished this book, which is a mark of accomplishment when considering just how little patience I've had for trying books this year. For all of its faults, and trust me when I say there are many, I was still drawn into the story. It's been a long time since I have read the Bible and I've made no secret of the fact that I just don't care about religion, but I enjoyed the refresher course. I didn't realize that Aldous Huxley's book Eyeless in Gaza was a reference to Samson's death, or that Tommie Lee Jones Iraq War film, In The Valley of Elah, was a reference to the valley in which David fought Goliath. Regardless, when the only good thing I can say about a book is that it helped me flesh out my understanding of cultural referents, chances are the book wasn't worth the time I spent on it.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Ian

    An extraordinary novel. It opens with King David as he is described in the First Book of Kings, in the last few days/weeks of life, with his new servant girl, Abishag the Shunammite. The novel has David looking back on his life, but he also knows about the future. Early on he complains about his portrayal in Chronicles: “In Chronicles I am a pious bore, as dull as dishwater and as preachy and insipid as that self-righteous Joan of Arc, and God knows I was never anything like that.” So, is David a An extraordinary novel. It opens with King David as he is described in the First Book of Kings, in the last few days/weeks of life, with his new servant girl, Abishag the Shunammite. The novel has David looking back on his life, but he also knows about the future. Early on he complains about his portrayal in Chronicles: “In Chronicles I am a pious bore, as dull as dishwater and as preachy and insipid as that self-righteous Joan of Arc, and God knows I was never anything like that.” So, is David also partly telling his story from the afterlife, or has he been shown this future by his prophets? The novel is loaded with deliberate anachronisms, and not just in relation to what David knows, the other characters use them as well. Personally I didn’t really get why the author included these. Are they meant to be part of the humour? If so this facet didn’t appeal to me, it was the one aspect of the book I didn’t like. It’s probably my overly tidy mind. I would say that it helps to know your Bible if you read this. I went to primary school in the Scottish Highlands in the late 60s and early 70s, and back then we got a half hour Bible lesson every day. Beyond the fight with Goliath though, my teachers avoided Samuel I and II. No doubt the stories of rape, adultery, and lusting after naked women were considered unsuitable for young minds. Not long after starting this I read through Samuel I and II, and the novel does stick closely to David’s life story as set out there. What it also does though is develop the characters and their motivations. To avoid spoilers I won’t go into detail, except to say that the portrayal of Solomon was one of my favourite elements. The God of this story is a capricious being. I laughed at David’s description of Moses and the Exodus: ‘…Forty years this went on, with God wrathful and fulminating and the people recalcitrant, stiff-necked and disobedient. ‘Till the day arrived when – weary enough to want to wash his hands of it all I’ll bet – he hiked up Mount Nebo to the top of Pisgah for his look across the Jordan at the Promised Land he was barred from entering for some undisclosed trespass neither I nor anyone else has been able to figure out.” In the story David never forgives God for killing his first-born son with Bathsheba. In many ways this is a central event in the novel, causing a permanent break between David and the God who once favoured him. I was going to say I thought the book would appeal more to men than to women, since it’s told from David’s perspective and David wasn’t just a guy, he was an absolute guy. However, I see that some female reviewers have rated it highly, so maybe that thought was incorrect. Imaginative, irreverent, raunchy, full of “earthy” language, laugh-out-loud funny in parts, with a poignant ending.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Thomas Strömquist

    Heller's take on the story of King David. More emphasis on humour than his other books, but with a healthy helping of satire. A great (and quite alternative) retelling of the story by a great author.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Doug

    I thought it was brilliant writing. Joseph Heller writes from the POV of King David of Israel, but in the tone of a 20th century American Jewish man. A word of warning: If you are not familiar with I and II Samuel (Old Testament books), you will be hopelessly lost while reading this.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Chad

    Best laugh ever. King David's autobiography. Must read about one-quarter of the Old Testament first to truly appreciate Heller's genuis.

  11. 5 out of 5

    David

    I am so relieved to be done with this book. I didn't enjoy it very much - there were a few funny snippets here and there but for the most part I felt like I was force-feeding myself monotonous Heller prose. The book is the story of King David, slayer of Goliath, King of Israel, father of Solomon, husband of Bathsheba, etc. Heller attempts to modernize the story by adding some fiction into David's story. It just didn't really gel very well for me. This was one of those books that I found myself n I am so relieved to be done with this book. I didn't enjoy it very much - there were a few funny snippets here and there but for the most part I felt like I was force-feeding myself monotonous Heller prose. The book is the story of King David, slayer of Goliath, King of Israel, father of Solomon, husband of Bathsheba, etc. Heller attempts to modernize the story by adding some fiction into David's story. It just didn't really gel very well for me. This was one of those books that I found myself nodding off after about 30-40 pages, which is why it took me an entire month to read. I won't say it's a bad book, but having read it one and a half times now, I don't think I'll need to read it again. In my experience, if you're going to read Heller, you should probably just stick to his first novel, Catch-22. I'm going to continue reading the rest of his works, because I am stubborn, but each one has paled in comparison to his first.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Lady Alexandrine

    It took me a while to read this book! It is surprisingly accurate when it comes to the events described in the Scriptures, but it is written in a satirical and ironic tone. There are pages and pages of crude expressions, so only read this novel if this doesn't deter you. To be honest, I was disappointed about how Bathsheba and David's relationship was described. Their attraction was purely physical. Bathsheba in the book is a greedy, ambitious woman, that would stop at nothing to get what she wa It took me a while to read this book! It is surprisingly accurate when it comes to the events described in the Scriptures, but it is written in a satirical and ironic tone. There are pages and pages of crude expressions, so only read this novel if this doesn't deter you. To be honest, I was disappointed about how Bathsheba and David's relationship was described. Their attraction was purely physical. Bathsheba in the book is a greedy, ambitious woman, that would stop at nothing to get what she wants. Her son Solomon is a halfwit. Still, it was an interesting novel to read. It surprised me and a few times made me laugh out loud, it was so ridiculous! It ended on a lyrical note, that was strangely touching.

  13. 5 out of 5

    John

    This may be more in the 3.5 range. The shortest possible encapsulation of ‘God Knows’ I can provide is that if you ever wanted to read the Old Testament as narrated by Woody Allen, well have I got a book for you. Heller writes this story of King David, slayer of Goliath, survivor of coups, stealer of Bathsheba, and man after God’s own heart not as the vigorous king of old but essentially as an old, disgruntled, Brooklyn-born and -raised Jewish father. To say there are anachronisms in here does no This may be more in the 3.5 range. The shortest possible encapsulation of ‘God Knows’ I can provide is that if you ever wanted to read the Old Testament as narrated by Woody Allen, well have I got a book for you. Heller writes this story of King David, slayer of Goliath, survivor of coups, stealer of Bathsheba, and man after God’s own heart not as the vigorous king of old but essentially as an old, disgruntled, Brooklyn-born and -raised Jewish father. To say there are anachronisms in here does not do it justice. The entire novel is an anachronism, the conceit of which is as David lies on his deathbed he considers the entirety of his extremely active life. Tragically, he finds not success, but sadness and solitude. It is at times a great farce, but other quite sensitive. Sometimes it evokes loud, neighbor-starling laughs, but a few pages later leaves the read dejected. I read that this book was not well received upon its publication, especially among Jewish reviewers at the various intellectual journals of the day. I find some of their critiques entirely reasonable. Parts of this novel are so frivolous that they detract from the enormity of the question Heller is seeking to pose: how does one “reconnect" with a God which whom he has lost touch. The title is both an exclamation following a question the narrator does not wish to consider in any depth out of fear of the answer he might find, as well as an implicit acceptance of the providence of God the Father. Throughout, however, David turns to the first. He blames God for his travails, for losing the only wife who provided comfort, for taking his baby boy born out of sin, the further penalty of which is the death of the only son he believes is worthy of his title. In this the reader, at the end, is never provided a comforting moment of closure. The king, as his life and reign slips away, is not able to take comfort in the longevity of his kingdom, as he learns the kingdom will one day fail—as a narrator knowledgeable of all of history he conveniently does not realize nor accept the kingdom-propitiating acts of Christ—but rather he is relieved to know that Bathsheba's life following his death won’t be so bad. There is a good heart at the center of Heller’s David, but his heart is not equal to the biblical David, even if ‘God Knows’ delivers a reasonable connective tissue to this moment in Old Testament history. If the satirical David presented here is any equal to the author, one is incapable of not offering a small prayer for him, even two decades after his death.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Girish

    God Knows is a powerful modern retelling of the story of David, leaving out the God and including the ramblings of a king near death. He is the same David who slayed Goliath, who ruled Judah and Palestine as King, the Biblical character who is most mentioned. One pre-read if you are not into religion is the Wiki page on David. I was under the impression Joseph Heller has chosen religion to satire (which he does by taking on the Bible). But surprisingly, for the large part of the book, it is abou God Knows is a powerful modern retelling of the story of David, leaving out the God and including the ramblings of a king near death. He is the same David who slayed Goliath, who ruled Judah and Palestine as King, the Biblical character who is most mentioned. One pre-read if you are not into religion is the Wiki page on David. I was under the impression Joseph Heller has chosen religion to satire (which he does by taking on the Bible). But surprisingly, for the large part of the book, it is about men and their vanity. About heroes and their desire to be 'a simple' who can love as father, as husband, as a loyal servant capable of expressing love, loyalty, guilt, helplessness and the multitude of human emotions . And Heller nails it once again! Heller's books are like caramel coated onions (for the lack of a better simile). The caramel is the first few chapters that make you laugh like crazy and in brief give you the entire story from start to end. Then comes the onion with layer after layer giving you more insights into human nature The narrative of King David is narcissistic and he is unapologetically judgmental. He speaks from the present caring not about the tense. This license results in many a laugh-out-loud moments making King David talk about Hollywood, PLO, Hitler's blitzkrieg, Michelangelo's statue,Shakespere's plagiarized writing and rues the lack of wire or underwear at the time. Intelligently his David has a standoff with God and hence He speaks to him no more (to keep out the mysticism). The book makes an impact on the reader that changes the image of a happy king. Loved the book. One of the best reads of this year.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Itamar Rauch

    I have to admit I did not finish reading this cover to cover as one would expect from a novel; however, I am quite done with this book. That is not to say it's bad in any sense, not by a long shot, it's even quite good. Thing is, to really appreciate this book, one should know really well the biblical story of David. Moreover, one should be familiar with critics of the story, the fact it appears twice in the old testament and each instance has its own version of David. What Heller does, is make D I have to admit I did not finish reading this cover to cover as one would expect from a novel; however, I am quite done with this book. That is not to say it's bad in any sense, not by a long shot, it's even quite good. Thing is, to really appreciate this book, one should know really well the biblical story of David. Moreover, one should be familiar with critics of the story, the fact it appears twice in the old testament and each instance has its own version of David. What Heller does, is make David a well rounded character. Intriguing, funny, annoying, and more. God Knows is sort of a train of thought by David at his deathbed, retelling his story with a few twists on the biblical story (hence the requirement to know the story *well*); and with modern prospective of it. As I am not a huge Bible buff some of the nuances were lost on me, and I was left with a sketchy retelling of the biblical David. At a certain point the novelty of a cynic David, and a witty way of telling bible stories, went a tad stale and I started to feel like I exhausted the value this book has for me. All in all, it was mostly entertaining, although somewhat chauvinist at times. I do recommend reading this book; though if you do, you might want to read up on King David, his appearances in the bible and his legacy. P.S. I *highly* recommend reading the Hebrew translation, if you have access to it and can actually read Hebrew. This adds a *lot* of flavour, the translator did a fantastic job interweaving biblical and modern Hebrew to the point of laughing out loud in appreciation of this sort of wordplay.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Redfox5

    I'm sorry but I just couldn't finish this book. I got to page 70 and decided to move on. Just been picking it up and putting it down all week. It was trying hard to be funny but I just found it boring.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Juliej

    One of the best books I have read for a very long time. I absolutely loved it. In my younger days I was a Bible nerd so I recognised the Bible stories and allusions that were peppered everywhere, I don't think someone who was not steeped in the Old Testament would get nearly so much out of it. Then the irreverence, just breath-taking. And the anachronisms - delightful. An amazing book for me, but not entirely sure who I could recommend it to. The humour is very niche - Biblical scholars and tradi One of the best books I have read for a very long time. I absolutely loved it. In my younger days I was a Bible nerd so I recognised the Bible stories and allusions that were peppered everywhere, I don't think someone who was not steeped in the Old Testament would get nearly so much out of it. Then the irreverence, just breath-taking. And the anachronisms - delightful. An amazing book for me, but not entirely sure who I could recommend it to. The humour is very niche - Biblical scholars and traditional Christians or Jews might find it too irreverent, and those who enjoy quirky stories might miss the richness of the text without the background knowledge of the texts.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Nathan

    Sort of a madcap version of King David's story, told in the first person, of course including more vivid descriptions of some of the bawdier details than the Bible does. Heller doesn't sacrifice the real account at the expense of entertainment though, so I came away really being amazed by David's story told again, and reminded of many details I had forgotten. I was impressed by his steadfastness in the face of serious hardship and adversity and his faithfulness to God, even though there is plent Sort of a madcap version of King David's story, told in the first person, of course including more vivid descriptions of some of the bawdier details than the Bible does. Heller doesn't sacrifice the real account at the expense of entertainment though, so I came away really being amazed by David's story told again, and reminded of many details I had forgotten. I was impressed by his steadfastness in the face of serious hardship and adversity and his faithfulness to God, even though there is plenty of his anger, lust, and general beleaguered longing here than in the Bible (For example, the Bible never goes into detail about the practical logistics and headaches of maintaining a harem in a warm climate). Included are funnier and more modernly humanized interactions with Abner- cast as an insensitive dolt, or Nathan- whom David considers a an enigmatic killjoy and is continually harassed that he answers everything in a Socratic way, and Jonathan- with whom he tries to dispel rumors of homosexuality, explains weeping together ("We did a lot of weeping back then."), and blames his difficulty of understanding him on the King James translators. Since this is a Joseph Heller novel, it is very funny, but can switch rapidly to sadness, anger, and violence. I enjoyed it a lot, even if some may find that making David into a cantankerous modern Jew is an affront to the mythical and/or Biblical casting. I say, just read the real Bible in that case, which clearly is the holier account.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Sterlingcindysu

    For the first time in years I didn't finish a book. I was about 100 pages from the end and just could. not. go. on. Heller writes about King David's last days and memories, and it's one long complainfest. There's bits of humor, but for my money I enjoyed Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal written by Christopher Moore much better. You know how the Bible has those long chains of "xx begat xx who begat xx who begat xx"? This is very similar but with "then I went to Giza to s For the first time in years I didn't finish a book. I was about 100 pages from the end and just could. not. go. on. Heller writes about King David's last days and memories, and it's one long complainfest. There's bits of humor, but for my money I enjoyed Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal written by Christopher Moore much better. You know how the Bible has those long chains of "xx begat xx who begat xx who begat xx"? This is very similar but with "then I went to Giza to smite then I went to Maziz to smite there too and then to Judea to rest up, but there was smiting there..." blah blah blah. There was no map so I had no idea where all these places were anyway. I didn't get the cover, but then I saw that it was similar to Catch-22, so the publisher wanted them to look the same in the box sets I guess. The font on this is tiny, and after reading for half an hour I was dismayed to find that I had only read 8 pages. I would have taken off a star anyway because Heller copied a story over. We know about David and Goliath, David and Saul, David and Jonathan, David and Bathseba, etc.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Andreas

    Many people read Catch-22 and consider themselves done with Joseph Heller. In fact, when Heller was asked why he had never written anything as good as Catch-22 later in his life, his reply was "Who has?" Still, his wit and style are left untarnished in 1984's God Knows. In it, Heller recounts the story from the books of Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles through the eyes of their main protagonist, King David. In the novel, David is old and bedridden, waiting for death and reminiscing. His quarrelsome Many people read Catch-22 and consider themselves done with Joseph Heller. In fact, when Heller was asked why he had never written anything as good as Catch-22 later in his life, his reply was "Who has?" Still, his wit and style are left untarnished in 1984's God Knows. In it, Heller recounts the story from the books of Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles through the eyes of their main protagonist, King David. In the novel, David is old and bedridden, waiting for death and reminiscing. His quarrelsome favourite wife, Bathsheba, keeps pestering him to make their son Solomon king, but he thinks the young man is unfit and dim-witted. While Abishag the Shunammite unsuccessfully tries to keep the old man warm, David thinks back of his youth, his confrontations with Saul, his conquests, his many wives, and foremost his troubles with God, which led to heartbreaking family crises. The book is laced with humour, its characters are vividly depicted and extremely human (especially the Lord), and its protagonist is both admirable in his eloquence and despicable in his smallness. It goes to Heller's credit that he is able to give a new spin to one of the greatest stories ever told, and make it feel fresh. I would recommend the book to everyone.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Ravi

    I really enjoyed this book, laughed my way through it, and also learned a bit about King David's life that I never knew. Of course, I know this is fiction, seeing King David's life through his own eyes, but if you're like me and was only familiar with the David vs. Goliath story, then you might enjoy at least his own take on the great event. This was my first Joseph Heller book (I know - gasp!), and it is because of this book that I went on to Catch-22. Heller's ability to take somewhat familiar I really enjoyed this book, laughed my way through it, and also learned a bit about King David's life that I never knew. Of course, I know this is fiction, seeing King David's life through his own eyes, but if you're like me and was only familiar with the David vs. Goliath story, then you might enjoy at least his own take on the great event. This was my first Joseph Heller book (I know - gasp!), and it is because of this book that I went on to Catch-22. Heller's ability to take somewhat familiar territory, write it through a different perspective, and have the wit and humor reveal more about the character than anything else, is simply amazing. While I was grinning, I actually felt like I was laughing along with King David. One of my favorite books, and one that I always take with me, wherever I go (it's been to 4 states and 2 countries). highly recommended for the curious, and those who can see humor through the most absurd of situations. This is not a book for the more sensitive readers as the humor may seem to come at the cost of a few character's dignity.

  22. 4 out of 5

    David Mitchell

    The long chapters make for tough reading and one needs to have a good grasp of the Biblical account (1 and 2 Samuel). Nonetheless, this is a worthy fictionalised account of David's life. There is some great humor; the dowry payment for the hand of Saul's daughter Michal is the funniest story in the book. One thing I didn't like: the book indicates Bathsheba's complicity in the great sin that caused her husband's death. I do not feel that the Biblical record indicates any complicity on Bathsheba's The long chapters make for tough reading and one needs to have a good grasp of the Biblical account (1 and 2 Samuel). Nonetheless, this is a worthy fictionalised account of David's life. There is some great humor; the dowry payment for the hand of Saul's daughter Michal is the funniest story in the book. One thing I didn't like: the book indicates Bathsheba's complicity in the great sin that caused her husband's death. I do not feel that the Biblical record indicates any complicity on Bathsheba's part.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Mark

    Laugh-out-loud at times, this irreverent take on the life of David is thought-provoking, distinctive, and, unfortunately, fairly tedious. Heller employs the same storytelling technique he used in Catch-22, introducing stories and referencing them several times before actually laying them out in full. I thought this approach was quite effective in Catch-22, a good example of technique enforcing theme. Here, however, the repetition as you get closer and closer to the whole story is tiresome. I thi Laugh-out-loud at times, this irreverent take on the life of David is thought-provoking, distinctive, and, unfortunately, fairly tedious. Heller employs the same storytelling technique he used in Catch-22, introducing stories and referencing them several times before actually laying them out in full. I thought this approach was quite effective in Catch-22, a good example of technique enforcing theme. Here, however, the repetition as you get closer and closer to the whole story is tiresome. I think a good editor could easily cut 100 pages out of this book. This book has heart, and I'm glad I read it, but I don't think I would recommend it.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Stephanie

    I'm getting a slow start here... probably because I wasn't expecting to have to read THE WHOLE OF 1ST AND SECOND SAMUEL in order to access this story--but the story is hilarious. Totally irreverent narrative of King David (not so hard to do), by King David. The really fun aspect of this book is the shameless anachronisms, blending of ancient hebrew culture (harems, rape, pillage, war) and casual reference to modern culture (mini skirts, Coney Island, the Holocaust). On the topic of his supposed r I'm getting a slow start here... probably because I wasn't expecting to have to read THE WHOLE OF 1ST AND SECOND SAMUEL in order to access this story--but the story is hilarious. Totally irreverent narrative of King David (not so hard to do), by King David. The really fun aspect of this book is the shameless anachronisms, blending of ancient hebrew culture (harems, rape, pillage, war) and casual reference to modern culture (mini skirts, Coney Island, the Holocaust). On the topic of his supposed romance with Jonathan, David grumbles, "Smutty repetitions... I was writing serious poetry... I am David the King, not Oscar Wilde."

  25. 5 out of 5

    Jonathan

    At first this book really seemed offensive, but by the end, I believe that it just paints King David as a human being. O fcourse Heller deliberately makes things sounds as offensive as possible, but if you can make it through the whole thing, you can see that David wrestles with feelings about himself, his family and his relationshoip with God that everyone probably wrestles with. It still isn't that great of a book. It pales in comparison to Catch-22.

  26. 4 out of 5

    julie

    I am naturally interested in the Old Testament and especially King David (I think he's one of the most screwed up yet passionate figures in the Bible)... but his angst-driven hoopla and paranoia annoyed me after the first 300 pages or so.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Kristina

    Catch-22 is a tough act to follow.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Chris

    So Joseph Heller has a certain style where he tends of overload his prose with attempts to be witty and/or punny and leaning heavily on the humor of nonsense and obvious contradictions. Some might describe it as "trying too hard." It's a little bit like listening to the comedian Dennis Miller when he goes on a roll with obscure references and I don't get most of them. I am sure there were a lot of references in this book that I didn't get, either because I wasn't paying enough attention (perhaps So Joseph Heller has a certain style where he tends of overload his prose with attempts to be witty and/or punny and leaning heavily on the humor of nonsense and obvious contradictions. Some might describe it as "trying too hard." It's a little bit like listening to the comedian Dennis Miller when he goes on a roll with obscure references and I don't get most of them. I am sure there were a lot of references in this book that I didn't get, either because I wasn't paying enough attention (perhaps because I was bored with the pace of the book) or because I'm not quite as well-read on the Old Testament as some, but I did catch a few good zingers (like describing King Saul coming to some realization as though scales had fallen off of his eyes-- now that was clever). Anyway, some will like this style and some won't. I definitely wouldn't recommend this book as a first foray into Heller's style. Certainly start with Catch-22 and see if you can stand that. It took me at least 150 pages to really find my stride in progressing through this one, perhaps because of all the Biblical-caliber names I was faced with keeping track of, like Absalom, Adonijah, Ahitophel, Amnon, and Abishag ("and that's just the A's" goes the joke). And by then, I was kind of tired of it already, but I forced myself to finish it. This book frequently uses obviously-intentional anachronisms as a literary device, perhaps to remind you not to take it too seriously. (I am reminded of Mel Brooks's cameo in Blazing Saddles as an Indian who speaks German or Yiddish for some reason.) It was rather off-putting at first, but I got used to it. I wondered at one point whether it was an attempt to portray King David as a God-like being who transcended time and had knowledge of things that happened thousands of years after his lifetime, but I believe such knowledge also accrued to other characters in the book, so that probably wasn't it. I found the arrangement of the plot in the story to be rather annoying. The story is told in retrospect as David is an old man, and it (eventually) starts from his youth, alternating back to the present to sustain the frame narrative, but many events are also told out of order, which I suppose might be a more realistic way to portray someone telling their life story, but is frustrating if you're trying to gauge your progress through the span of time being covered. I also found the ending pretty unsatisfying. One might compare this book to the concept coined by St. John of the Cross as "the dark night of the soul" by theorizing how King David (and Saul before him) might have handled losing favor/communication with God late in life, if they were, as Heller imagines them, ultimately irreverent persons with a suspiciously modern lack of adherence to their religious precepts. It's certainly possible that Heller was on the mark for some aspects of David's thinking, particularly as it regarded suffering, but by and large, this book would offend most seriously religious people and I wouldn't recommend it to any such people except if they have developed a bit of a thick skin about religious satire and seem capable of analyzing and appreciating something in spite of an irreverent approach to the subject. I actually started reading it several years ago and was so repulsed by the first few pages that I put it down, but I decided to give it another chance after I'd grown up a bit more. So basically, I would say this book has a very limited target audience, and several stylistic elements that make it rather challenging to enjoy, but the concept is interesting, and there is some humor in it.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Gavin Felgate

    This is written as a fake, warts-and-all autobiography of King David from The Bible. I know Joseph Heller was Jewish, though I have no idea if he was strictly religious, and this book suggests that he at least had a liberal view of the Old Testament. I found the book's interpretations of Biblical events very funny; it portrays King David as petulant and narcissistic, sort of like a combination of characters from two of Heller's other books - Yossarian from Catch-22 and Bob Slocum from Something H This is written as a fake, warts-and-all autobiography of King David from The Bible. I know Joseph Heller was Jewish, though I have no idea if he was strictly religious, and this book suggests that he at least had a liberal view of the Old Testament. I found the book's interpretations of Biblical events very funny; it portrays King David as petulant and narcissistic, sort of like a combination of characters from two of Heller's other books - Yossarian from Catch-22 and Bob Slocum from Something Happened, and he uses some very non-Biblical language (i.e. swear words). Most of the source material appears to be from the books of 1 and 2 Samuel, focusing mostly on two issues: King David's relationships with his many wives, and him opposing the idea of Solomon becoming the next king. There were a few running gags that I enjoyed, such as the observation about how Samuel has two books named after him, even though he dies halfway through the first one, mostly through David complaining that the books should be called 1 and 2 David. There were other observations in the book that I enjoyed too, particularly how people mentioned in the Bible with difficult to pronounce names never had much going for them, and how all the memorable figures had names like David, Joseph and Abraham. I noticed also that the narrative seemed to jump around in the timeline a lot, and it took a bit of getting used to. Some events, including the exodus from Egypt and Saul's death, seemed to be mentioned in detail more than once. The book was also filled with anachronisms, with several references to people and books that came long after Old Testament times (Shakespeare is quoted a lot). I enjoyed this book a lot, even though it was not a book that I could read quickly; for a lot of the time, I was constantly laughing out loud, but wasn't surprised when late in the book, moments of tragedy started occurring (they seem to be a staple of Joseph Heller's novels). It might offend religious people who take their beliefs very seriously, but I'd recommend it to anyone else.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Micah Scelsi

    Heller does another marvelous job in picking a topic and structure to write about. He combines history, with fiction, and modern knowledge/anachronism. Heller is a great humorist, but his style of writing leads to many opportunities to miss his jokes. First, it requires that the reader be familiar with other works of literature. In this case it is mostly the Bible, which cannot be taken as a given anymore, despite its appearance in "Jeopardy" categories (as a benchmark for cultural literacy). In Heller does another marvelous job in picking a topic and structure to write about. He combines history, with fiction, and modern knowledge/anachronism. Heller is a great humorist, but his style of writing leads to many opportunities to miss his jokes. First, it requires that the reader be familiar with other works of literature. In this case it is mostly the Bible, which cannot be taken as a given anymore, despite its appearance in "Jeopardy" categories (as a benchmark for cultural literacy). In particular, the first five books of the Bible, many of the other historical books, as well as a general knowledge of Psalms and other wisdom books, particularly Ecclesiastes. Shakespeare knowledge doesn't hurt either. The other difficult part in reading Heller is that he jumps around chronologically in his stories quite often. He'll refer to an item, then go back in time, and then later fully enlighten the reader as to what he is referring to. This creates an atmosphere of anticipation, but it also can seem redundant, as many of the same topics are covered intermittently throughout the book. The story itself about Kind David and his challenges in becoming a king and passing on his legacy are funny. The author uses his coarse humor, but also gives believable dialogue and motivations for various characters and allegiances. It's almost the story behind the story, as we see biblical stories, interwoven with Heller's conjecture on what could have happened. It is quite a novel story, and the author again does a good job a showing an older mail character with mixed feelings about his life and legacy. That part is common among a number of Heller's later books.

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