The book of Genesis begins the story of Noah in chapter five. It names Noah as a man righteous in his generation who was five hundred years old when he begat Shem, Ham, and Jephthah. The world at the time of Noah is filled with violence and corruption. We are told about God choosing to save Noah and his sons and their wives but the women are not named.
In Sinners and the Sea, the author imagines an entire new side of the Noah story. In the tradition of biblical fiction like The Red Tent and Rashi’s Daughters, the framework is made up of the events told in the Bible, however the creative author invents additions and embellishments to fill in the missing information. In this version of the Noah story, Eben is a protective single parent to his nameless marked daughter. A successful olive grower, he is set apart from his neighbors due to the “demon” mark above his daughter’s eye. She was born with this mark, her mother disappeared, and father and daughter have been tormented ever since. As the horde outside their tent becomes more emboldened to lynch Eben’s daughter, one man, Arrat the storyteller, finds a match for her in barter for olive groves. Noah, a man hundreds of years old, has been in search of a righteous wife and will take her far away. Eben agrees in order to save his pure daughter’s life. Thus begins the saga of Noah’s wife, who is nameless in the Bible and barely discussed. She is taken by Noah to live in a place filled with whores and murderers. Noah the prophet preaches to the sinners day and night to repent and to follow the God of Adam.
The author gives an intelligent voice to Noah’s wife, who witnesses the horrifying details of the people’s lives in that era. Her own life becomes sweeter only when her three sons are born and she is busy raising and protecting them. The process of the building of the ark, the ensuing endless days of rain, flooding, and devastation are described intensely. There are few bright moments in this fictional biblical story which illustrates so clearly all the evils of human nature. As the relationship between Noah and his wife progresses ever so slowly but positively, the three brothers’ interactions are increasingly complicated and negative. At least toward the end, the glimpses of hope for the beautiful, verdant new world after the flood waters subside are encouraging.