Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Bible Characters Come to Life in Historical Fiction

In The Shadow of the Ark
Anne Provoost, translated by John Nieuwenhuien, Arthur A. Levine Books, An Imprint of Scholastic Inc., 2004, 16.95, hb, 368pp, 0-439-44234-6, YA

Flemish author, Anne Provoost’s In The Shadow of the Ark, grips the reader with vivid scenes, well-developed characters, and beautiful language. She tells the story of Noah and his ark through the eyes of a young woman named Re Jana. Re Jana’s family have fled the marshes where they lived for years among skilled shipbuilders and fishermen to find work in the desert among the Rrattika people who are “wanderers”. Re Jana’s father, a shipbuilder, finds work with Noah, a wanderer, who is constructing a massive ship, the ark. Re Jana offers her skills to find “good water” and ultimately wins the love of Ham, the Builder’s son. Unfortunately, Ham has selected another girl to be his wife, but he cannot give up Re Jana. When Re Jana learns from Ham the true purpose of the ark she not only fears for her life and that of her family, but also questions this god that Ham and his family are obeying.
The apocalyptic scenes that ensue are gripping and present very powerful emotions as Re Jana and the reader are confronted with the philosophical questions of who lives and who dies in this biblical tale.
Readers who enjoyed The Red Tent, by Anita Diamant, will surely want to pick up this book. In a bold departure, Scholastic has decided to sell the paperback rights of this book to an adult publisher, Berkley Books. Look for it now in bookstores. The book is intended for mature young adult readers and therefore, crosses well into the adult arena. Provoost does imply some sexually implicit scenes, one of which involves an intimate relationship between two women. None of these, however, are very direct or crude.
In the Shadow of the Ark is an excellent choice for book club discussions. (review first published in Historical Novel Society REVIEW)

More to Read:

Song of the Magdalene by Donna Jo Napoli
Salome by Beatrice Gormley
Sarah by Marek Halter

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