The young heroine in Sinners and the Sea is destined for greatness. Known only as “wife” in the Bible and cursed with a birthmark that many think is the brand of a demon, this unnamed woman—fated to become the mother of all generations after the great flood—lives anew through Rebecca Kanner. The author gives this virtuous woman the perfect voice to make one of the Old Testament’s stories come alive like never before.
Desperate to keep her safe, the woman’s father gives her to the righteous Noah, who weds her and takes her to the town of Sorum, a haven for outcasts. Alone in her new life, Noah’s wife gives him three sons. But living in this wicked and perverse town with an aloof husband who speaks more to God than to her takes its toll. Noah’s wife struggles to know her own identity and value. She tries to make friends with the violent and dissolute people of Sorum while raising a brood that, despite its pious upbringing, develops some sinful tendencies of its own. While Noah carries out the Lord’s commands, she tries to hide her mark and her shame as she weathers the scorn and taunts of the townspeople.
But these trials are nothing compared to what awaits her after God tells her husband that a flood is coming—and that Noah and his family must build an ark so that they alone can repopulate the world. As the floodwaters draw near, she grows in courage and honor, and when the water finally recedes, she emerges whole, displaying once and for all the indomitable strength of women. Drawing on the biblical narrative and Jewish mythology, Sinners and the Sea is a beautifully written account of the antediluvian world told in cinematic detail.
How thankful I am that this is a work of fiction, written by an imperfect human and not by God. Rebecca Kanner has taken the bare bones story of Noah and turned it into something more resembling Mad Max than the Bible. Sinners and the Sea is a nightmare that left me with questions even after I factored in the character of God in the Old Testament.
It starts with a woman in want of a name. Born with a birthmark, the superstitious villagers see her as a demon and refuse to come near her. Her father, Eben, won’t name her because he fears it will be too easy for people to talk or spread lies about her. Of course, this doesn’t work because they still know who she is, ostracize her and accuse her of demonic activity. Eventually, she comes to Noah’s attention and her father is only too glad to see her leave. This woman becomes Noah’s wife, living in the notoriously wretched town of Sorum, and the closest thing she has to a friend is brothel owner, Javan, even though she must be careful not to get on the wrong side of the often violent woman. Noah gives her three sons, but spends more time trying to get the people of Sorum to repent of their wickedness than with his own family. At one point, Noah suggests he would trade his sons for the peoples’ repentance.
This is a very dysfunctional family. When the ark building begins, Noah works his sons harder than any of the slaves brought in to assist. He insists that no sinner will be allowed on board, but none of the family is without sin. Noah comes across as arrogant and duplicitous. His sons are violent, disrespectful and fornicators. The woman lies to her husband. Even when on the ark, away from the influence of Sorum’s inhabitants, these people continue in their sinful ways. The only way any of them survive in this fiction must be because of God’s grace, which is unknown to them.
Finally, there’s the tone of the book. Within the first few pages I was struck by the crude language. I nearly stopped reading when one man starts to say a really disgusting word in reference to a female. It feels as though Kanner was determined to shock her readers in an effort to show how depraved the people of Noah’s time were. Frankly, I could have done without the graphic descriptions. And speaking of descriptions, there is also a strange passage of narrative that reads like a hallucination. Only at the end of the book does it lighten up, and there’s a beautiful moment between the woman and one of her daughters-in-law. Unfortunately, it isn’t enough to counter the brutality of what comes before.
Thank you to Howard Books for my free electronic copy of The Sinners and the Sea, which I downloaded from NetGalley. No review was required.
Publisher: Howard Books (a division of Simon and Schuster)
Publication Date: 02 April 2013
Page Count: 352