Review + Giveaway (see below for link to enter)~
I absolutely loved Rebecca Kanner’s debut novel, Sinners and the Sea, when it published last year. I was thrilled to read it again for her virtual tour and offer my review as it was captivating and enthralling. Rebecca is a seasoned writer of fiction and essays, even though this is her first book, so you have an amazing well-written novel that features lots of layers of thinking past the initial premise of being a biography of biblical Noah’s wife.
Mentioned only briefly in the Bible, Noah’s wife was simply called wife, as well as throughout the book, as she had no name. She was born with a birthmark on her head which targeted her as a very evil demon who must possibly do all sorts of things like change into lizards, goats, and what not, or change other people into those, while killing and eating babies or whatever other outlandish stories masses of people come up with for those are slightly different. With a mark of the devil, and her mother having run away, the woman who would become Noah’s wife only has her father to protect her from the village people who wish to kill her. When Noah comes from afar on his decrepit donkey (in fact, Noah is probably 400 years old or so at the time himself with a long straggly beard and bowed legs), she knows the mark has sent her on a journey in order for her survival.
I take away just from the beginning of the novel Rebecca’s themes of humanity’s issue with people not being pure in their beauty, or perfect, or different. People are so paranoid of others that they spin outlandish stories, create fear, and tell stories in order to justify themselves. When it’s a woman who is imperfect, it can be even worse. For women are already the devil’s temptress, aren’t they? (that was sarcasm….)
I also can read through the lines and compare this woman being marked to what it was like for Jews who were marked by a yellow star during WWII Holocaust and had to hide to save their lives. She hid behind the lentil sacks in her small tent with her father without a name to avoid persecution and the Jews lives were stripped, names replaced with numbers, and they had to hide or escape to avoid persecution. It’s also true for any other groups, still even today, who are marked by groups of others or governments (or religious leaders), persecuted, beaten, and killed. It’s even as true to think about women with tattoos the small of their back, forever branding themselves “tramps” in the eyes of the world for its placement. Or, and this is featured in the book as well, it is almost norm for those who are disabled or slow to be made fun of for something they cannot help, yet people fear their imperfections so much they shun or are cruel to these people. Who are these that judge to think they are better than anyone else? We are all created differently, on the inside as well as the outside, and have various beliefs and opinions that are important to us as well as circumstances.
In the case of Noah’s wife, she is taken by Noah to the desert to a place where all sinners are exiled and marked with an X. Though she is marked too, it is in a different way and she must hide her mark with a scarf and still not go out much for fear of being called a devil woman even from these people who don’t follow God’s rules. They just don’t want any bad luck or magic to come against them further. The people there steal, loot, kill, and fornicate to such a degree that really they do nothing else; disease is rampant, and life is miserable for them, as well as frustrating for Noah as he tries to save them all. But he can’t. They have no way to stop doing the things they do to survive, even if they fear or want to know God.
Noah’s wife does befriend the most dangerous woman of the bunch, who kills to survive and runs a prostitution ring, yet has a slow daughter that seems so pure, innocent, and kind. Noah’s wife loves her and wishes for her to be part of her family yet Noah won’t accept that as she is mentally challenged and might bears sons as such. As this woman, named Lavan, and Noah’s wife learn to assist each other after working together trying to save three babies from the hands of murderers, they learn an appreciation and understanding for each other. She even helps Noah’s wife deliver her three sons that she finally gives Noah. It’s interesting then as Noah is so conflicted over saving these sinners that he rarely calls his sons by their names as well as completely ignoring them as one whores around the sinner camp and tent brothels, one makes jokes, and the other is God-fearing yet does not seem to find his father’s eye or respect. It reminds me of another father I know who spends so much time thinking he is wonderful for helping other people, taking in needy, and “feeding his flock with the word of God,” yet forgets almost completely about the details of the lives of his three sons. Wouldn’t God have wanted Noah to love his three sons as He loves himself those sons He gave Noah? Was the frustration eating away at Noah so widespread within him, and his focus so much toward doing God’s will and spending hours talking to God about how to save the sinners, that he forgets his own wonderful children–about being a father himself not to only the flock, but his own sons?
In the novel we live through Noah passing out the message that the world will end except for those directed to be in the Ark. The Ark isn’t the main focus of the novel, but more towards the late middle to end as Rebecca sets the scene for us as to the people in exile in the desert, allowing us to know them as well as offering deep development of Noah’s family, Lavan, and her daughter, Henai.
But the horror of the flood, of the issues that come with the people below the Ark–those dying and those fighting to survive–knowing the characters who die, and relating that to actual people who died is hard to fathom. With emotion, we imagine the Earth being wiped out. It all wasn’t so simple as the rains came, the floods came up, the Ark floated along, and then the sun came out and the world was new. It was so much more than that and Rebecca put so much emotion and care, as well as action and suspense, into this section. And the family issues that occur between Noah’s sons and wives just adds to the fervor with which I shake my head, and yet I know, in every stressful situation where people see their lives flashing before their eyes and the fire of survival burning in their hearts, passion, jealously, and the worst of our human personalities can arise.
I loved this fictional biography of Noah’s wife as Rebecca truly showed us a woman of strength. A woman who was marked and yet overcame it, letting her mark lead her life toward true meaning. I realized she was truly “marked” but in a much more special way. The novel has her marked to save the world, bringing hope and kindness to others, to become the mother of the world. She is vibrant, passionate, compassionate, and intelligent. She is nurturing and loving. She is humble and offers grace and mercy. Yet, all she wants is a name. Will she get it? I’ll let you find out. But after I’ve read this book about her, I feel that Rebecca made me want to KNOW this woman. Andy maybe in some regard I already do.
Sinners and the Sea ends with thought-provoking content that really speaks to the fact that all different “types” of people make the world go round. That annihilating entire races is really not the answer in which to create a perfect world.
I would highly recommend this book to those who love historical biographical fiction from the time of the Old Testament and those who enjoy books with strong female leads. Be prepared for it to not be full of fluff though, Rebecca holds nothing back when describing the horrors of being in exile, living in filth, and the rampant prostitution. However, it’s deep, philosophical, and shows the strength of the female. As for myself, I will cherish Rebecca’s book and let it serve as a reminder of humanity.
I have an extra giveaway on this blog in addition to the tour-wide one below. Please follow my blog or my Hook of a Book Facebook page to enter (www.facebook.com/HookofaBook) and leave a comment below with your email and name!!
To enter to win one of two (2) copies of Sinners and the Sea or a $25 Amazon Gift Card via Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours, please complete the Rafflecopter giveaway form below. Giveaway is open to US residents only and ends at 11:59pm on May 29th. You must be 18 or older to enter. Winners will be chosen via Rafflecopter by HFVBT on May 30th and notified via email by them. Winners have 48 hours to claim prize or new winner is chosen.
Click below to go to RAFFLECOPTER ENTRY FORM:
Sinners and the Sea, Synopsis~
Publication Date: April 2, 2013
Howard Books/Simon and Schuster
Formats: Hardcover, Paperback, eBook, Audio CD
The young heroine in Sinners and the Sea is destined for greatness. Known only as “wife” in the Bible and cursed with a birthmark that many think is the brand of a demon, this unnamed woman lives anew through Rebecca Kanner. The author gives this virtuous woman the perfect voice to make one of the Old Testament’s stories come alive like never before.
Desperate to keep her safe, the woman’s father gives her to the righteous Noah, who weds her and takes her to the town of Sorum, a haven for outcasts. Alone in her new life, Noah’s wife gives him three sons. But living in this wicked and perverse town with an aloof husband who speaks more to God than to her takes its toll. She tries to make friends with the violent and dissolute people of Sorum while raising a brood that, despite its pious upbringing, develops some sinful tendencies of its own. While Noah carries out the Lord’s commands, she tries to hide her mark and her shame as she weathers the scorn and taunts of the townspeople.
But these trials are nothing compared to what awaits her after God tells her husband that a flood is coming—and that Noah and his family must build an ark so that they alone can repopulate the world. As the floodwaters draw near, she grows in courage and honor, and when the water finally recedes, she emerges whole, displaying once and for all the indomitable strength of women. Drawing on the biblical narrative and Jewish mythology, Sinners and the Sea is a beautifully written account of the antediluvian world told in cinematic detail.
Watch the Book Trailer~
Praise for Sinners and the Sea~
“Kanner animates a harsh, almost dystopic world of fallen people struggling to survive. Noah’s unnamed wife is a powerful, memorable character.” – Publisher’s Weekly
“[Noah’s wife] proves her strength and character as she tries to protect her family… from the outside forces that threaten. Kanner successfully undertakes a formidable task retelling a familiar religious story through the eyes of Noah’s wife. The narrative’s well-articulated, evenly balanced and stimulating—but it’s definitely not the familiar tale that’s so frequently illustrated in children’s books” – Kirkus Reviews
“SINNERS AND THE SEA is a rare find–a bold and vivid journey to the antediluvian world of Noah. Kanner’s is a fresh, irresistible story about the unnamed woman behind the famous ark-builder. Compelling and masterfully written.” – Tosca Lee, NY Times bestelling author of HAVAH: THE STORY OF EVE.
“What a remarkable debut! Rebecca Kanner’s SINNERS AND THE SEA is a haunting, beautifully written story of struggle and redemption told through the eyes of the Biblical prophet Noah’s wife. Kanner pulls no punches: She gives us humanity in all its wickedness — bloodthirsty, greedy, cruel — and the horror and heartbreak the inhabitants of Noah’s ark might have felt as, unable to help, they listened to the screams of the dying and witnessed the utter obliteration of life on Earth. By the end of this book, I was in tears, for Kanner does lead us out of the valley of the shadow of death into a new world of promise and hope. SINNERS AND THE SEA is a profoundly moving tale, thrilling and fast-paced, and one of the best books I have read in a very long time.”- Sherry Jones, author, THE JEWEL OF MEDINA and FOUR SISTERS, ALL QUEENS
“Rebecca Kanner brings the antediluvian world of giants, prophets, and demons alive, setting her narrative in motion from the first chapter and never letting it rest. She is a writer of great dexterity, performing tricks at a full sprint.” – Marshall Klimasewiski, author of THE COTTAGERS and TYRANTS
“Kanner does a masterful job of penetrating the depths of the Biblical Flood narrative and weaving in the complicated reality of challenging relationships and longings for personal fulfillment. Her desire to go beyond the traditional understanding of the lives she explores introduces us to a courageous and insightful young writer whose first book will take its place alongside other exciting modern re-readings of the ancient Biblical text.” – Rabbi Allen of Beth Jacob congregation in Mendota Heights, Minnesota. Honored by Forward newspaper as one of America’s “50 most significant Jewish leaders”
“We think we know Noah’s story but he was not alone on the ark; what was the experience of his wife, his family? Rebecca Kanner’s vividly imagined telling recreates the world of the bible, and asks powerful questions about the story and about ourselves.” – Rabbi David Wolpe, Sinai Temple in Los Angeles, named the most influential Rabbi in America by Newsweek Magazine (2012). Author of WHY FAITH MATTERS
“We sympathize with this unnamed woman because—as remote as her world seems to be from ours—she longs for all that we want for ourselves: to be known, loved, and accepted by her family, her community, and ultimately her God… After reading Sinners and the Sea, you’ll never look at the Biblical story of Noah and the flood in the same way again, and isn’t that Biblical fiction’s greatest purpose? To see the old stories with fresh eyes and perhaps find new meaning…” – Stephanie Landsem, author of THE WELL
“Rebecca Kanner has created an autobiography of Noah’s wife, and an imaginative one it is.” – American Jewish World
“[Kanner] gives an intelligent voice to Noah’s wife.” – Jewish Book Council
“First-time novelist Kanner has written an utterly absorbing novel, one that flows seamlessly.” – Historical Novel Society
“A fascinating look into a feral civilization of turmoil and hardship.” – Historical Novel Review
“A stirring, fascinating story written beautifully.” – Historical Fiction Connection
“Kanner beautifully evokes life on the claustrophobic, smelly vessel. Riveting… It will certainly spark hours of book club discussions.” – St. Paul Pioneer Press
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Author Rebecca Kanner, Biography~
Sinners and the Sea is Rebecca Kanner’s debut novel. Rebecca is a Twin Cities native and has a Master of Fine Arts in Fiction Writing from Washington University in St. Louis. Her writing has won an Associated Writing Programs Award, a Loft mentorship Award and a 2012/2013 Minnesota State Arts Board Grant. Her personal essay, “Safety,” is listed as a Notable Essay in Best American Essays 2011. Her stories have been published in numerous journals including The Kenyon Review and The Cincinnati Review.
Along with other authors including Anita Diamant, Michael Cunningham, Joyce Carol Oates, Russell Banks and Ron Hansen, Rebecca will be featured in the upcoming title Truthful Fictions: Conversations with American Biographical Novelists.
Tour Schedule: http://hfvirtualbooktours.com/sinnersandtheseatour
Tour Hashtag: #SinnersandtheSeaTour