An evening with Geraldine Brooks

The author commands a crowd at State Road Restaurant last week.

Geraldine Brooks speaks at an event last week at State Road restaurant. — Photo by Valerie Becker

Geraldine Brooks’ appearance belies her power. She’s petite, with a valentine of a face, and a voice that neighbors girlish. Yet the dainty Australian effortlessly held 60-plus attendees at State Road Restaurant in the delicate palm of her hand last Wednesday.

The event, part of the “Speakeasy” series of authors’ talks that benefits the West Tisbury library, brought out Islanders hungry enough for culture after a long winter and brave enough to risk the event’s parking lot.

It was, Ms. Brooks admitted apologetically, her first sojourn into the promotion of her new historical novel, The Secret Chord.

“Does anyone know what that refers to?” she asked her audience. Poet Michael West shouted out, “Leonard Cohen!” He was, she confirmed, correct. It refers to the first line in the composer’s song “Hallelujah”: They say that there’s a secret chord that David played and it pleased the Lord. Her book, it turns out, is the story of King David. “He’s the only one in the Bible we get to know from soup to nuts,” she explained.

Geraldine Brooks was born and raised in a suburb of Australia by an American father and Australian mother. She attended Bethlehem College Ashfield and the University of Sydney. Upon graduation, she worked as a reporter for the Sydney Morning Herald, and after completing a master’s in journalism at Columbia University in New York, she wrote for the Wall Street Journal, covering the Middle East, Africa, and the Balkans. In 2006 she received a fellowship from the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Studies at Harvard University. While still in college, she married author and journalist Tony Horwitz.

She has since survived incarceration in a Nigerian jail, a bombarded Holiday Inn in Bosnia (“No one wanted a window with a view,” she quips), and two rounds of surgery, chemo, and radiation for breast cancer. She’s won a Pulitzer, and has two nonfiction and several historical fiction books under her belt. So holding an audience in thrall amounts to a cakewalk.

During her hour at State Road, she regaled her fans with the history of her inspiration for her new book (her son decided he wanted to play the harp), bons mots, and a reading from the soon-to-be-released tome, told from the perspective of Nathan, whose job, according to Ms. Brooks, “was telling David that he sucked.”

“That’s some career path,” she joked. She brought her audience along for the bumpy ride of publishing, and gushed, “I just this morning saw the cover art for the book.” It was no easy feat, bringing this sophisticated group of Islanders on that exciting trip, but slight as she is, Geraldine Brooks can more than handle the heavy lifting.

The Secret Chord will be released by Viking in early October, and is available for preorder on