Not the End of the World

Geral­dine McCaughrean
  • Review
By – July 20, 2012

If you’re look­ing for a slav­ish retelling of the Bible sto­ry about Noah and the Flood, this book isn’t for you. If you’re hop­ing to read a book about pret­ty rain­bows and obe­di­ent doves, this isn’t for you. But if you want a sto­ry that will grip you from the begin­ning to the end with a real­is­tic cast of human and ani­mal char­ac­ters, a plot that will keep you on the edge of your chair, and a set­ting that is both hor­rif­ic and fas­ci­nat­ing, then you must read this mas­ter­ful book. Tim­na, Noah’s daugh­ter, is the main char­ac­ter and hero. What? You’ve nev­er heard of her? Was she just anoth­er invis­i­ble woman from the Bible? Tim­na her­self real­izes the truth: “ Shem, Ham, and Japheth: sons of Noah.’ They are the only ones who will be men­tioned a hun­dred years from now when peo­ple tell our sto­ry. I know I won’t fig­ure.” You must read until the very end to dis­cov­er Timna’s fate. 

Tim­na isn’t the only nar­ra­tor in this book. Her three broth­ers, their wives, her moth­er, and even some of the suf­fer­ing ani­mals tell the tale from their var­i­ous points of view. Each voice is expres­sive; each voice has a dif­fer­ent cadence and leads us to a deep­er under­stand­ing of the cat­a­stro­phe of the Flood. Inter­est­ing­ly, Noah does not tell his side of the sto­ry. The author por­trays him as a reli­gious fanat­ic, a mono­ma­ni­ac. She leads us to ques­tion whether he is as blame­less” as the Bible sto­ry would sug­gest. Almost all the peo­ple on the Ark are cast in an unflat­ter­ing light. After all, Noah’s fam­i­ly saved them­selves while thou­sands of peo­ple drowned: The water boiled with peo­ple. They were swim­ming, or clutch­ing hold of logs, doors, cart­wheels. Ani­mals, too, were swim­ming among them — dogs and hors­es, cat­tle, goats. The sky was full of dis­placed birds, cir­cling, cir­cling, with nowhere to land.” How­ev­er, the family’s faults — large and small — make them seem more human. Not like­able, but human. 

McCaugh­re­an tells this sto­ry through pow­er­ful lan­guage and imagery. The sen­so­ry world engulfs us. Below us, in the bow­els of the ship, along its entire length, beasts squealed and shrieked and keened, scrab­bling with claws and talons and tails for some pur­chase on the rolling world.… Huge mounds of hot dung slid about the deck­ing, dis­lodg­ing small crea­tures in their path.” What did we expect? That all these ani­mals would qui­et­ly behave them­selves dur­ing the 40 days and nights and all the claus­tro­pho­bic days there­after while they wait­ed for the waters to recede? The Flood was not a pret­ty sight. Touch­es of humor and irony occa­sion­al­ly relieve the trag­ic events. Tim­na states: No short­age of jobs for any of us. The end of the world is a busy time if you mean to out­live it.” With­out giv­ing away the end­ing, let us say that some small hope sus­tains the sur­vivors (and the read­er). And per­haps even a grain of faith. In our time of nat­ur­al dis­as­ters— hur­ri­canes, tidal waves, earth­quakes — the ancient sto­ry of Noah and the flood hits uncom­fort­ably close to home. High­ly rec­om­mend­ed for ages 12 – 18.

Anne Dublin is the teacher-librar­i­an at Holy Blos­som Tem­ple in Toron­to, Cana­da and an award-win­ning author of books for chil­dren and young adults. Her lat­est book is June Call­wood: A Life of Action (Sec­ond Sto­ry Press, 2006).

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