The Exponent, 31th March 2005
A very good friend of mine introduced the author Anne Provoost to me. Spring Break was coming up and I needed something really good to read. We were having lunch and I asked her what new stories she had read. She knows that I love religious stories that have been fictionalized so she suggested that I read a story called In the Shadow of the Ark. This novel was lovely and transporting; just what I needed for my break from classes and all things academic.
In the Shadow of the Ark tells the fictional story of Noah and his divine inspiration to build the ark. The story is told, not from the perspective of the blessed man and his family, but from the perspective of a young woman named Re Jana. Re Jana and her family have left the marshes where they have lived all their life because of her ill mother. She had been struck with a severe illness that made her afraid of the water she so loved and because of Re Jana's devotion to his wife, he took her away from the water she so feared.
Re Jana's father had other reasons for wanting to go off to the bigger city; he was a master ship builder and designer. He had heard of the "crazy man" building a massive ship in the desert and wanted to see if it was true. After a long and arduous journey Re Jana's father found that it was true and set to find a place for himself among the Rrattika.
After the family arrives Re Jana strikes up a relationship with Ham, the builder's youngest son. However, Ham has been promised to another, and while he does not love his betrothed, he knows that he will not be able to take Re Jana along with him when the world is destroyed by flood.
This novel is beautiful--one of the most beautiful I have ever read. First, it tells a good story and second, its every word borders on the poetic. Most everyone knows the biblical story of the flood, so it's nearly impossible to retell this story and make it have so much power and beauty. I have heard this story a thousand times in my life but reading this book made me feel like I was being exposed to this story for the first time. Provoost made the characters feel so human. Not only did her writing make the reader really care what happened to the people who we all knew were destined to perish, she managed to portray the people with absolutely no judgment.
Noah and his family were made into three-dimensional characters. They were no longer just the chosen ones; in Provoost's writing they became real people, people who had to carry the burden and the guilt that came along with being chosen and knowing that not only were people going to die but they could do nothing to save them. Sometimes we regular old humans need to know that the icons we hear so much and are taught to revere were just regular old humans at one time too.
I suggest you read Anne Provoost's novel, especially if you like religious fiction. This novel is intelligent and suspenseful and very, very well written. If you think the ending is a foregone conclusion it's not. There are surprises in store for anyone who's heard the flood story and thinks they know what happens. Pick up the novel and try it out. If you like very tense, descriptive novels that quickly builds up to a climactic ending this is the novel for you.
I would be remiss if I didn't mention the translator who translated this novel from its original language. His name is John Nieuwenhuizen and he does a wonderful job of bringing the novel to an English-speaking audience. Nothing is lost in translation here.