It was the rising waters that chased Re Jana’s family from their home in the marshes. To the desert they fled, following the trail of animals and people who had gone before them. And there, in the dry center of the desert, rose the frame of a boat of unprecedented proportions, Noah’s ark.
Even as she falls in love with the builder’s son, Ham, and panic spreads in the gathered tribes, Re Jana questions all that she hears and believes her family will be saved, even as the deluge begins and the doors to the ark are sealed.
In Anne Provoost's In the Shadow of the Ark, Re Jana and her fishing family have fled their overflowing marshes to find work with thousands of others in the desert territory of the Rrattika: "the people who wander." One of the wanderers, a mad man named Noach, is building a huge ship in the middle of the desert. Re Jana’s father, a shipwright, reluctantly joins the community of workers who have made their homes at the base of the ark. Re Jana, a healer and masseuse, charms Ham, one of Noach’s sons, with her scented oils and her talent for divining a particularly sweet water source. She is initially amused, and then slowly alarmed at his insistence that his father’s god will create a flood mighty enough to lift the great ark from the desert floor. Despite the fact that Ham chooses another woman for his wife, Re Jana is sure that his true love for her and her family will insure them a place upon the ship, should the rains really come. Her father, hedging his bets, builds a boat in secret, hoping to cheat Noach’s god, who has declared that only Noach and his family will survive the looming deluge. As Re Jana struggles to understand how any god could be so unfeeling as to wipe out all life, the waters begin to rise. As the terrifying prophecy unfolds, it becomes increasingly clear to the doubters that Noach’s mad ravings were true. Will Re Jana and her family survive the flood? For the sake of all mankind, they must try.
Belgian author Anne Provoost has taken a familiar Bible story and created an epic so panoramic that we see this long vanished world through new eyes. Provoost is a powerful storyteller who creates secondary characters that are just as vibrant and luminous as her curious and questioning adolescent narrator. Readers will ache with the foreknowledge of the story’s end, hoping that the people they have come to know and cherish will escape their seemingly inevitable fate. Weaving together timeless themes of justice, faith, love and hope, In the Shadow of the Ark is at once classic and immediate, completely familiar, and yet radically indefinable. Masterpiece is not too strong a word to describe this all-encompassing story. Pair it with Elsie Aidinoff’s The GardenThe Garden or The Red Tent by Anita Diamant for a provocative mother-daughter book discussion.--Jennifer Hubert