Children's Literature.
Vermont Academy of Arts & Sciences Newsletter, 2005
door A. H. Westing

Questions of good and evil

In the great flood story found in Chapters 6-9 of the Book of Genesis, God warned a righteous (i.e., in right relation to God) and blameless man named Noah in time for him to build an ark that would save him and his family from the drowning that befell all other humans of the time, here again owing to their collective wickedness, violence, corruption, and the evil in all their hearts. One of the more memorable aspects of that telling is that Noah took aboard a fruitful pair of each of the world's full range of animal life. The omniscient narrator of this familiar Biblical version is presumably Moses, who, in turn, is assumed to have gotten his information directly from above.

In Anne Provoost's most provocative of retellings of the great flood story, we this time become witness to the enduring saga of when God meted out indiscriminate "justice" to virtually the whole of humanity through the eyes of a young dark-skinned heathen (polytheistic) woman from Canaan - that is to say, of an insignificant member of all those many people collectively judged to have been sufficiently wicked or nonconformist to be consigned to mass execution by drowning. Here (in almost 400 pages rather than the Bible's 4) Provoost offers us the dramatic story of how the ark was constructed in the desert some distance east of Canaan just in time for the rising waters that killed most life on earth, of its time afloat, of the subsequent recession of the waters, and of the ark's ultimate landing - all of this under the direction of Noah and his three sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth.

As the story opens, the young woman and her parents, whose father is a skilled boat builder, are seeking out the desert construction site both to get away from their increasingly inundated home area in the coastal marshlands of Canaan and to find employment. They join a huge assemblage of construction workers and both father and daughter soon become an integral part of the frantic building process. Life as it might well have been in that early period of human existence is convincingly recreated by Provoost, both as to its day-to-day domestic activities (e.g., personal hygiene was not yet a widespread priority, but full-body massaging was in among some of the heathens) and as to the cultural differences between Noah and his fellow monotheistic believers in the God of the Bible and the many heathens attracted to the building site. The author is particularly good at describing the enormous difficulties in building such a huge structure, then the problem of obtaining and getting the endless pairs of animals aboard and at the same time of keeping at bay the many people desperate to come aboard, and finally of the incredible hardships endured during the time afloat.

As time progresses during the period of construction, the young heathen woman and her father attempt to comprehend and, in time, to thwart the fate decreed for them and virtually all else. Indeed, it becomes slowly evident that these two are fundamentally more decent and thoughtful than the "righteous" and "blameless" Noah and his sons who had been chosen to survive and replenish the earth with their progeny. Among other troubling decisions of the God of the Bible to be challenged by daughter and father were how that God could indiscriminately murder essentially all humans (and in the process all other terrestrial life), including the young, mentally defective, and other clearly innocent humans, whether monotheistic or polytheistic. The great strength of this exposition is that it explores in far greater detail and care than does the Book of Genesis the ethical and moral ramifications of the Biblical God's sweeping cleansing action.

I can strongly recommend this book to anyone over about 16 not only as a fascinating and imaginative bit of action-packed "historical" fiction, but particularly as a stimulating exercise in Bible study and, more generally, in raising basic questions of thoughtful free will versus mindless obedience and in presenting fundamental questions of good and evil.