In the Shadow of the Ark
by Anne Provoost

Arthur Levine Bks, 2004. ISBN 0439442346.
Reviewed by Judith Helburn
Posted on 08/15/2005

Fiction: Christian

And God saw that the wickedness of man was great
But Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord.

—Genesis 6:5-8

This is not your Sunday school version of Noah and the Ark. Provoost introduces us to a family of marsh dwellers from the far south who travel east where, they have heard, shipbuilders need workers. These shipbuilders are constructing the largest ship of all time, and the marshes have flooded. This dark-skinned family engages a ragged tracker who with his son, Put, leads the way into the desert. Finally, they come upon the strange sight of a huge ship being built where there is no water, just sand and stone and thorny shrubs.

The boy, Put, is brought back to their camp after the tracker is killed by a wild beast. Jana, the daughter of the marsh family seeks and finds good water with her divining stick in a skeleton-filled cave. She bathes and oils her mother, who has had a stroke, and meets Ham, the youngest son of Noah. Jana begins a na´ve but sexual relationship with Ham after bathing and oiling him as well. It seems the natural next step. Her father begins supervising the construction of the huge ship, correcting errors as he goes. The scene is set.

And the rains fall more frequently and harder. They learn that the God of these strange white-skinned people has declared that the whole earth will be flooded, and only Noah and his family will be spared. People who are drawn to the ship-building area half believe that the world will flood and half believe that there is room for them on the ship. Then animals begin appearing from around the earth, and the rains continue.

Jana, Ham and Put are the protagonists in this always gripping story. Jana's ability to find a secret freshwater source is important. Her father's ability to build ships is important. Her relationship with Ham is important. That she and Put will ultimately stow away on the ship is evident. The events leading up to the flood and the situation on the ship create a dramatic, believable tale.

Wrapping a story around what might be just a few lines in the Bible is a rich tradition in our culture. Here is a powerful story of an outsider's view, a woman's view in a desert culture where women have no power or rights. In the Shadow of the Ark is hard to put down. It will make you wonder.

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