In the spirit of Anita Diamant’s The Red Tent comes an extraordinary debut novel that breathes life into Noah’s wife and combines history and mythology in an intensely suspenseful, page-turning narrative.
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.
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About the Author
Rebecca Kanner’s writing has won an Associated Writing Programs Award and a Loft Mentorship Award. Her stories have been published in numerous journals, including The Kenyon Review and The Cincinnati Review. She is a freelance writer and teaches writing at The Loft in Minneapolis.
Read an Excerpt
Sinners and the Sea
They say it is the mark of a demon. When I was a child, none took their chances by coming close to me, and certainly no one touched me. It looks as if a large man dipped his palm in wine and pressed it to my forehead above my left eye.
After I was born, the midwife seized the afterbirth and rubbed it over the mark. Then the afterbirth was buried, so that when it decayed, the mark would disappear too. But the mark grew darker. By my second year it had gone from red to purple.
My father tried every known remedy. He anointed it daily with olive oil, rubbed it with a sheep’s hoof, even offered the gods the smallest finger on his left hand to take it away. But the gods did not accept his finger. They dulled the heat of the fire he set to send it up to them so that it only smoked and did not burn.
He had not named me for fear it would be too easy then for people to talk and spread lies, and he was glad of this when the gods would not hear his plea.
There was not another tent within fifty cubits of my father’s. So as not to catch my affliction through their gazes, when people hurried past to catch an errant sheep or child, they looked at me out of the corner of one eye or not at all. Once a man four tents away chased his goat to only a few cubits from my father’s land, then stopped suddenly when he saw me at the cookfire and ran back in the direction he had come.
The goat was never seen again. It was thought that I had changed it into a newborn, the one who was left outside the midwife’s tent one night. Rocks were tied to the newborn’s hands and feet, and he was taken to the Nile.
After this, pregnant women sometimes went to stay with tribesmen in other villages so they would not accidentally see me and have their own child marked in some way. I thought perhaps they also feared that looking at me was a death sentence. My father had told me that my own mother had choked to death a year after I was born. Pregnant women, being the most superstitious of all people, likely thought it was me who sealed her throat around the goat meat.
While I could not tell you what the people of my father’s village looked like up close, the traders were different. They did not fear the mark so greatly. They ventured from the cities along the Nile to haggle with my father for his olives. They brought fruit, nuts, honey, spices, incense, and every kind of grain. They brought flattery, promises, lies, and wine to make my father believe them. He pretended to entertain thoughts of buying large quantities of grain to store in case of a famine, and wool and salted meat in case all the sheep died of the plague that had first fed upon people very young and old, even upon men and women who had been strong only half a moon before their deaths. What he really wanted from them was stories, thinking one might instruct him in how I could be saved.
The traders squatted around our cookfire and let me serve them. But if I accidentally brushed against one as I went around filling their bowls with goat stew and lentils, the man would jump up, curse, and sometimes run to wash himself where I had touched him. One trader even burned his tunic. So I was careful, because I loved to listen to their tales of other places, imagining one of them might be a place where I would not be thought so strange and dangerous.
The traders only spoke of one town with fear: Sorum, Town of Women. It was also known as the Town of Exiles. Though some traders would not venture there, many were their stories of Sorum. It was a town of whores and exiles, people whose foreheads were branded with the X of the banished. Unlike the protective mark that the God of Adam had put upon Cain, the marks on these people were not meant to save them from harm. An X upon your forehead meant that you had committed a crime in one of the cities along the Nile and were no longer welcome. I took a great interest in the stories of Sorum.
An old trader called Arrat the Storyteller told us most of what we knew of Sorum. Whenever he coughed and spat, it meant he wanted to speak. One night the other traders were so raucous, he had to do this over and over again until everyone went silent. Then he rubbed his hand along his beard, rocked forward to his toes, and said, “Sorum. Town of Women.”
One trader narrowed his eyes, another pressed his lips tightly together, and a third pulled his tunic closer around him.
“Now, it is that a woman who is a cross between a girl and a boar guards the entrance. Not to keep men out but, rather, to lure them in. She is uglier than a rotting corpse and smells even worse, yet a man who looks upon her cannot stop his feet from taking him to suckle at her breasts. He will give her all his goods, even the sandals off his own feet. After they have joined together just once, he will pine for her demon’s nectar his whole life. He will bring her fruits and nuts he steals off other men’s trees, oxen and mules he kills other men for. And finally, whatever is left of his soul.
“After she has laid waste to it but before he has fully crossed to the other side, she eats his organs and sucks the marrow from his bones. She does not stop, even though his limbs twitch and he screams for death to take him.
“Then she fashions the bones into necklaces and belts and gives them to the women of the town. Some wear so many bones, they stumble under their weight as though they were overfull with wine. The boar woman herself is decorated so completely with the bones of the men she has eaten that her whole body, except her teats and sex, is covered. Even with this heaviness upon her, she can run faster than a man. And worse, she is stronger than the biggest mule. No one dares cross her.
“No one except a crazed man who rides an ass through town, ancient and unseeing. He is as old as the world itself. So old his beard trails along the ground and gets caught beneath his donkey’s hooves. He yells at the women to repent. He wants to make Sorum upright for his god, the God of Adam.”
This brought laughter.
“His time would be better spent trying to turn a goat into a dove.”
“Or grow an olive grove from a whore—”
“Quiet!” my father commanded, knocking the man’s bowl from his hands. He stood to his full height and gestured toward where I squatted behind the circle of traders, eating my stew after having served theirs.
My father rarely went into a rage, though he had much to be unhappy about. He had a large olive grove and no heir, along with a daughter who could neither inherit the grove nor entice a match. I had heard a man scream at my father only a few days before: “Not even for every olive upon the earth!” The man stomped the ground so hard walking away that he left perfect sandal marks. He was enraged that my father would think him a match for me.
I hurried to pick up the trader’s bowl. “I am sorry,” the trader said, not to me but to my father.
My father said, “Do not think on it any longer.” But he did not buy any of the man’s honey, which surprised me, because eating honey makes a girl more pleasing in nature and shape.
Gods, see how he has lost hope. Please, I beg of you. Help rid me of this mark.
This was my daily plea, the same one I had been whispering each morning upon waking and each night before sleep since first seeing the mark in a pot of water ten years before. But I knew that if the gods had not answered my plea already, they probably never would. I was already nineteen, seven long years past when most girls were taken as wives.
• • •
Then came Mechem the Magical. All the traders had quick tongues but none quicker than his. To a man who labored to breathe, he would sell some wind that he carried in a sack upon his back. He would sell grains of curing sand to the mother of a child with a pus-filled wound. To the sick, he sold the healing droppings of a healthy doe, to the barren, the miracle placenta of a ewe that had birthed three lambs instead of two.
And finally, to my father, for half the olives in his grove, he sold the urine of a great beast. One even more powerful than a demon. The beast had tusks sharp enough to spear spirits, hooves heavy enough to crush them, a trunk long enough to slap them a whole league, and ears big enough to hear them as clearly as a fly buzzing on the beast’s own flank. Mechem promised that, after applying the potion to my forehead, the mark would take only a few days to fade.
“Because of the potion’s great power,” he told my father, “administering it is dangerous. Though I might lose what is left of my life, I will do it for only half the olives that remain.”
My father and Mechem argued back and forth outside the tent, until my father conceded three quarters of his harvest. He lifted the door flap, and he and Mechem came in. Mechem held a small amphora in one hand.
“Our troubles are over,” my father told me. His eyes were full of hope and fear. I knew the fear. He was afraid that the potion would not be able to overcome the mark. He looked expectantly at Mechem.
But Mechem seemed to be waiting. He frowned at my father.
“You will not even know I am here, unless you should need something,” my father assured him.
“The potion will not work with so much flesh vying to be purified.”
“Mine is not in need of purification,” my father said, then quickly looked to make sure his words had not wounded me. “I can stand behind these pots of lentils so the potion is not confused as to which skin to set upon.”
“No, you must leave. I cannot waste what little I have. Unless you possess another olive grove with which to pay me.”
My father’s jaw tightened. He narrowed his eyes at the trader.
“Three men died getting this potion,” Mechem said.
My father came to stand only a few hands’ width from the trader. He was a whole head taller than the little man. “I trust you will do as you have promised,” he said. Then he slipped out the door flap, and I was alone with Mechem.
Mechem looked directly at me. “I do not flinch from demons,” he said. Was this the man the gods had sent to answer my plea that the mark be taken from me? His eyes were glassy and wide-set, like a goat’s. His fingers curled and uncurled as he came to stand beside where I squatted at my loom. He leaned down and whispered, “My own seed will master the demon.” The smell of the wine he had drunk with my father lingered in a cloud between us. I did not have to wonder what he meant.
“But my honor . . .”
“I have two potions, woman. One to remove the mark and one to restore your virtue when I am done.” He pulled another tiny amphora from a pouch tied to his belt and held it in front of my face.
I leaned away from him. “My father is already making me a match,” I lied. “I cannot be tainted.”
“Your father, who did not bother to name you, is now making a match for you?”
“He did not give me a name so that people could not speak of me and spread lies.”
He set the potions down and grabbed my shoulder. His nails dug into my skin. “Silly woman. If you do not have a name, people will give you one: Angels’ Bane, Demon’s Daughter, Demon’s Whore—”
I shook his hand off my shoulder and stood. He pushed up against me, knocking over my loom. “I will take these names out of their mouths when I take the mark from you. You will be a miracle, a woman who overcame a demon. You will have new names: Demon Slayer, Woman of the Gods—”
“I do not care what they call me,” I said, stepping back.
He did not advance. He smiled and said, “You do not know how to lie, woman.”
“I am not as skilled in it as some.”
His nostrils twitched, revealing the stiff black hairs inside. I knew I had erred in angering him. Even though he was a small man, he was still a man, and I was just a woman who no one wanted to take for a wife.
“Please,” I said, “apply the potion only to the mark. All I have is that I am untouched.”
He reached out a finger and pressed his nail against my mark. “But you are touched, for all to see.”
“No one but my father and now you looks closely.”
“People look with their tongues and ears more than their eyes. These very traders whose bowls you fill with your father’s meat and lentils, whose cups you fill with his wine, they do not profit only from their goods. Just as your father has them here so he can hear their tales, so too does he give them one.”
“One is not so many.”
“But it is such a good one, it overshadows all the others.”
“It is nothing that could compare to the story of the boar woman.”
“The demon-woman tale Arrat weaves is riveting. He says your mark changes from red to black and that, after gazing upon it, smoke sometimes comes from his own eyes.” Mechem pretended sadness. “He does not have to clear his throat twice when he goes back along the river. The people there want to know what is in a village so near to their own, a distance a demon could hop in one breath. Do you never worry that men of the nearby villages will come for you?”
“Why would they do so?”
“Who wants to live with a demon so close when there are crops, herds, children, wives, and other property to look after?”
“You are not a good liar either. You go too far.” But I wasn’t certain he exaggerated.
“I do not lie about this.”
My heart beat not only because he wanted to come too close to me but because it suddenly seemed that all the peoples of the world were talking about me in hushed tones.
“Let me help you. Another man has to show the demon he is no match, that he does not own you. It is other men’s fear of you that keeps the demon’s mark upon your brow.” His fingers circled a lock of hair that had come loose from my scarf, and gently ran down the length of it. “Besides, it is a shame to have this mark upon you when you would be such a sweet sight without it.”
He leaned in close again, so that his nose nearly touched mine, and his breath against my lips caused me to stumble backward. The lock of my hair that he still held stretched taut between us.
“The demon is too strong for a man to survive lying with me,” I said, trying to lie more convincingly this time. “He lifts me from my sleeping blanket in the blackest part of night. Things I touch wither and die. If I even look too long at a bird, she will crumple and fall from the sky.”
“I am not a bird.”
“The demon has infected me with his poison so any man who tries to know me will never know me or any other woman again.”
Mechem took hold of my shoulders. He shoved me to the ground.
I could not roll away quickly enough to keep him from falling upon me. The wine on his breath covered a worse odor from his mouth, that of rot, as when a mouse drowns in a pot of nuts or lentils and is not discovered right away. He looked down the length of my body and grasped my breast through my tunic. I struggled to push him off, but my efforts had no effect on him.
He reached his hand lower still and pressed it to my tunic where my legs met. I bit him with all the strength of my fear. I tasted his dry, salty flesh and felt the wiry hair of his eyebrow against my lips. He recoiled, then thrust his hand against my neck. Though the bitter taste of his blood was upon my tongue, I was surprised by the deep gash upon his brow.
His cheeks flared red. “Let me tell you two things, woman. It was not a demon that gave you the mark. It was your own evil mother, and you will do as I say and tell no one, or I will let it be known in this village and all the surrounding ones that the demon has taken every last drop of your soul and uses your body for a vessel. I will show them my forehead, and they will not doubt me.”
“Do not speak false of the dead.”
“Your mother is dead now?” he asked. “Did she finally drink herself yellow and die?”
“She died a year after she bore me.”
He laughed, and his hand loosened on my neck. “And I am the handsomest man in the world! She fled before being branded with the mark of the exile for birthing you.”
“No, I do not believe you.” But I did. I finally understood why my father looked like he had just been hit with a rock whenever I asked about her.
“Even your own mother did not want you,” he said sadly. “Though I am no beauty, and years past the peak of my virility, I am not without an appetite for a woman’s softness. I will do what no other man would dare to and bring you into full womanhood.” He yanked my tunic up over my thighs.
Sunlight streamed into the tent as the door flap was lifted behind Mechem. Before Mechem could turn around to defend himself, my father knocked him off of me unto the ground.
“Fool!” Mechem cried. “I could bring you to ruin with the slightest movement of my tongue. People would flock from leagues in all directions to tear apart your tent, burn your olive grove to the ground, and kill your worthless demon spawn. Now leave us or I will be gone, taking my potion and my tale.”
“We have already agreed upon the price for your potion. I will apply it to my child myself. If the mark disappears within the next four days, then you will have half my harvest.”
“You will have neither my potion nor my silence,” Mechem said. He picked up the amphora with the urine of the great beast and was moving to where he had left the other potion, the one that would restore my virtue after he had taken it, when my father wrapped an arm around him and tried to yank the amphora from his fingers.
“The demon is unleashed!” Mechem yelled loudly toward the door flap. As there were no tents near ours, I doubted anyone heard him. Still, he began screaming as though he were a man dying a horrible death.
My father put a hand over Mechem’s mouth, trying to muffle the old man’s screams. He forced the trader to the ground and slammed his head down with the full force of his weight. There was a great thud, and the screaming stopped.
My father stared down at Mechem. “Wake up,” he demanded. The trader did not acknowledge my father, and his head and limbs moved lifelessly when my father shook him.
My father looked incredulously at the dead man for a few shallow breaths. Then he dropped his head into his hands. “We are doomed,” he said.
What People are Saying About This
“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.”
“Sinners and the Sea is an excellent example of the traditional Jewish method of Midrash meeting the modern writer’s pen. 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 midrashic 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.”
“Sinners and the Sea is a rare find—a bold and vivid journey into 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.”
“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.”
Reading Group Guide
This reading group guide for Sinners and the Sea includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Rebecca Kanner. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
Sinners and the Sea recounts the familiar biblical story of Noah and his ark—but this time, the story is told from the perspective of his often forgotten wife. The narrator, who remains nameless until the last page of the novel, struggles to understand her purpose and worth in a world that condemns her because of a prominent birthmark on her forehead. After years of misery and hardship, her father is finally able to marry her off to Noah, a 600-year-old prophet who praises only one God and who has foretold the imminent end of the world. Poignantly written, Sinners and the Sea examines the complexities between right and wrong and calls into question the very idea of righteousness.
Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. The novel opens with the narrator describing her birthmark: “they say it is the mark of a demon…it looks as if a large man dipped his palm in wine and pressed it to my forehead above my left eye” (10). In what way or ways does this description immediately characterize the narrator and her situation? As a reader, are you immediately sympathetic to the narrator and her plight? Why or why not?
2. Discuss the narrator’s father. Would you describe him as a “good” man? Does he love his daughter, or is he burdened by his daughter’s mark? Do you think his decision to marry her off to Noah is in her best interest? Why or why not?
3. Noah’s extreme old age contributes to the mythical quality of the novel. What are other moments in the novel that you would characterize as mythic? As biblical?
4. Consider the relationship between the narrator and Javan. Would you consider their relationship a friendship? Why or why not? In your opinion, what do the two women have in common? In what ways are they different? Do you think that one woman is more dependent on the other, or do you think the two rely on each other equally?
5. Until the very end of the story, the narrator remains nameless. “It is not because you are unworthy that I have kept you hidden and not given you a name” (38), the narrator’s father assures her, and yet later, when the narrator asks her husband to bestow a name on her he replies: “I already have. Come now, Wife, onwards to Sorum” (50). Discuss the importance of naming in the novel. Why is it significant that the narrator remains nameless? What power does naming have?
6. Is there a hero of this story? If so, which character would you call the hero and why?
7. Is the figure of Noah in the story similar to the prophet in the Bible, or is he different? Do you agree with the narrator’s assessment that Noah cast a “spell of gloom” (104) over the family, or do you think he had other intentions?
8. “But Ham at least would one day have his own family, and then he would make decrees instead of following them. It seemed I never would. I wondered who had more control over her life—one of Javan’s prostitutes, or me” (140). Consider this quote in light of the entire novel. Do the women have as much power as the men in the novel? Do they have more in some cases? Consider the narrator, Javan, and Zilpha in your response.
9. Discuss the narrator’s three sons. Are they a blessing or a burden, or both? Why do you think there is so much competition between the three sons? In your opinion, for whose attention are they vying—Noah’s or the narrator’s?
10. A theme of the novel emerges on page 233 when the narrator says: “If Noah and my sons die when we meet the other ship, who I will be?” Discuss the importance of identity in the novel. Do you think the narrator views herself as anonymous without her family?
11. Can you glean any symbolism from the narrator’s birthmark? In her opinion, the mark brought “shame, humiliation, hatred, and…life” (272). Do you agree with this assessment? How did the mark contribute to the narrator’s “salvation” (272)?
12. Discuss the events that transpired on the ark during the flood. Did the characters change their behavior when they were the only people left on earth, or did they stay the same?
13. Characterize the relationship between the narrator and her three daughters-in-law. Does she favor one over the other? Does she like—or even love—all three? Is there one that she does not seem care for? Did you like one more than the others? Why?
14. Revisit the ending of the story. Did it surprise you that Noah gave his wife the gift of a name?
Enhance Your Book Club
1. Sinners and the Sea lets readers explore a different version of the familiar story of Noah and his ark. Reread the story of Noah from the Book of Genesis 6-9. Compare and contrast the two stories, paying special attention to the character of Noah’s wife. In what ways is she similar to our narrator? In what ways is she different? After reading the two, would you consider Sinners and the Seaa feminist text? Why or why not?
2. Much of the novel is about righteousness and the divide between sinners and saints. But such divides are never clear-cut, and are very often contradictory. For example, the narrator surmises that Noah “liked living among sinners” and that “he did not care for anyone’s righteousness but his own” (149). Discuss the narrator’s position with your book club during a show-and-tell. Define what “righteousness” means to you. Have each member bring in photos, keepsakes, books, or any other objects associated with their definition. Is it easy to define such a complex term? Do you think it is true that often we do not care for anyone’s righteousness but our own?
3. Have a movie night with your book club and rent Evan Almighty (2007). Discuss how the characters in the movie are similar to and different from the characters in the novel. What parallels can you find between the two stories? What are the differences between the book and the film?
4. Following the theme of biblical women, have your book club read The Red Tent (2007) by Anita Diamant. Explore with your group what it might have meant to be a woman living during biblical times. Has society changed its treatment of women? Based on the novels, do you think it is easier for women today than it was then?
A Conversation with Rebecca Kanner
1. This is your debut novel. Describe what this story means to you and why you chose to retell the story of Noah from his unnamed wife’s point of view. What inspired the creation of this story?
As a child I had a storybook about the flood. Noah, his family, and all of the animals walked happily into the ark. The darkness and the rains came. The sea tossed the ark, there were a few pages of rough sailing. Then the sun came out. The giraffes’ heads poked up out of a window. They seemed to be smiling. Everyone piled out of the ark and God put a rainbow in the sky. Noah’s wife didn’t get even one line of dialogue. I wanted to write an adult version of the flood which took into account the hardships of building the ark, the horror of watching hundreds of people die, the fear that God has deserted you, and the guilt and sadness the survivors might have felt. With a woman’s sensitivity, Noah’s wife is able to tell us about all of this, and about her own struggle as the wife of a man tortured by the terrible task he must carry out.
2. Who is your favorite character and why?
I love Javan, the town’s most notorious madam. For the reader she might not be immediately likable. She’s crude and often violent. But she’s also a caring mother who is willing to sacrifice herself for her daughter. There’s something deeply satisfying and life-affirming about finding the good in people, especially when it’s well hidden.
3. Your novel depicts a part of the Bible that we don’t often see; that is, a story told from the point of view of a woman. Was it important to you to present an alternative point of view?
Certainly. I don’t want to look at biblical stories where women don’t get much air time, so to speak, and say, “This is sexist, I wash my hands of it.” I can’t do that. The men and women of the Old Testament were the teachers and friends of my youth. Because the bible often tells huge stories in only a few pages, there’s plenty of room between the lines for us to imagine the lives of biblical women.
4. Would you consider this a feminist text?
The word feminist seems to have gotten a bad rap lately. To me, being a feminist doesn’t mean that I think men and women are the same. It means that women’s voices are as important as men’s. I do consider this a feminist text.
5. Describe the research that went into the making of this novel. Was it a lot or a little?
Initially I was concerned with how much truth there was in the biblical story. I did some research into the plausibility of building such a large ark and taking one or seven pairs of each animal onboard. There was a great flood several thousand years ago. What some scientists will allow is that a smaller ark with all the animals in a local area could have survived the flood. I don’t know what happened, and I’ve come to be okay with that. Dwelling in possibility, being uncertain, is a spiritual position. One of trust and humility and openness. I like that there are things beyond human comprehension. Life is a mystery, and my own life is better if I treat it that way. If I wake up in the morning and say, “Surprise me.”
6. Do you hope to break any stereotypes with this novel?
There are many good, strong women in the bible. I’m thinking specifically of the matriarchs Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah. So I wasn’t concerned with the stereotypes of women someone might take from the bible. But there are current cultural stereotypes that I was hoping to challenge in Sinners and the Sea. When I began the book I didn’t know that Herai was going to be a character. Once she emerged she became very important to me. As a society we tend to value people with certain traits less than others. Herai’s mother, Javan, has insight that the people around her don’t have. With regard to Herai’s “slowness” she says, “What is so good about being quick?”
7. How did you come to be a writer? What is your background and who are your influences?
I became a writer by being shy and loving books. The shyness has faded a bit but the love of books remains. I’ve always been a fan of short stories. In a really good story it feels as though a whole soul has been stuffed into just a few pages. Short stories are haunting as you read them because even at the beginning they’re nearly gone. And because they’re almost always about a sense of loss.
I love the stories of Lorrie Moore. There is a great sense of loss but the writing is so smart and so compelling that the sadness doesn’t overwhelm the story.
Sinners and the Sea is full of loss—the loss of the whole world, the only one Noah and his family have known. But unlike many short stories, I don’t think it’s ultimately a sad story, at least not for most of the survivors. Noah’s wife loses people, loses some innocence, but she also sees that the new world is a gift.
8. Discuss the significance of the birthmark. Is being ‘marked’ symbolic for some greater issue in the novel?
There is some symbolism. I will leave it up to the reader to find it for herself.
9. What would you name as the major theme(s) of this story?
The theme that was most important to me in writing Sinners and the Sea is that the things we dislike about ourselves—our struggles, our mistakes and imperfections, our burdens, our “marks”—can sometimes save us.
10. Who are you reading now? Who is your favorite author?
I’m reading Michael Cunningham’s The Hours. It’s a biographical novel which, as you can imagine, is of interest to me. Who my favorite author is usually depends upon who I’m reading at the time. I just finished the wonderful book, The Round House by Minnesota native Louise Erdrich. The most humbling experience I’ve had in the last couple of years was reading Wolf Hall. Hilary Mantel will go down in history as one of the greatest writers of our time.
11. What is next for you as a writer?
I’m working on a novel about the biblical Queen Esther, an orphan who was taken into the harem of the king of Persia, and went on to become queen. She must stand up to the most powerful advisor in the empire and sway the king if she wants to save her people from genocide. This book is a sort of biblical The Other Boleyn Girl with a touch of Game of Thrones.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I wish I had read all the reviews before reading this book. It is a wildly imaginative tale, but not Biblical accurate. The book or trays Noah as a harsh man, cruel to his family, even attempting to force one son to marry an old woman and another to never marry. When the author introduced paracal being held and blown out of the hand of Noah's wife I thought I would bust with laughter, not because it was funny rather paracal were not invented yet. Not a Biblically researched story....very secular. If you want a Biblical Noah story, you won't find it here.
Kanner’s novel whisks you into a world, which I had never imagined would be chocked so full of complex life. I had picked up the novel, driven by the simple curiosity of Noah’s wife. However, as a began to read I found myself caught up in the unpredictable whirlwind of the fascinating characters living in Sorum. The frustrating battle between the role the ancient community demands of our protagonist and her unyielding independence as a virtuous woman, suddenly felt as though it were my own. The pages tied me down as though I were trapped in the perverse biblical town, yet Kanner’s story pushed me forward with suggestions of hope while creating this unexplainable urge to identify with her namless protagonist. What captured me most was Noah’s wife’s perseverance in the midst of a community both irrevocably blind to her experience and inevitably doomed to its own fate. What’s more? She does it on her own, even as her holy husband distances himself, oblivious to his wife’s beautiful spirit, which it seems only the reader is fortunate to finally see flourish. If you are seeking to not only experience a previously unexplored ancient world, but to also discover a voice unjustly muted by time, I would highly recommend Kanner’s novel. I’m certainly going to be spreading the word about it.
If you're looking for Biblical Fiction coming from a Christian worldview that stays faithful to Scripture, then I *strongly* recommend passing on this book. I'm shocked that this book was published by Howard Books, a Christian publisher. The Sinners and the Sea clearly belongs in the secular market, not the Christian market. Try one of the other wonderful authors I've recommended instead!
Rebecca Kanner’s new debut novel, Sinners and the Sea, is a dark tale about the world as Noah and his family prepares to sail away on the arc. The author uses her vivid imagination to create and enhance this tragic story. Told through the eyes of Noah’s wife, a nameless, birth-marked young woman, she gives us a glimpse of a world rife with sin, crime, treachery, and lust. The protagonist spends the entire book wishing for a name, waiting for Noah to choose one for her. Like the bible, God has spoken to Noah and directed him to build an arc and to collect breeding animals to sail away with and start a new life when the floods come to drown the sinful world and its sinners. But even amongst his own family, there is evil afoot – Japheth being a violent son and Ham being the good son. The third son is very young in the story. The novel follows the trials and tribulations faced in the building of the arc with villagers stealing the building materials while Noah’s wife must keep everyone from discovering her birthmark for fear they will kill her. The author delves into the primitive brutality of the era and their desperation to cling to life when the floods begin to arrive. It places Noah and his family in constant peril when they cannot help. I enjoyed reading about castaways floating on debris or small boats during the deluge who will soon be drowned. As in the bible, Noah is described as being hundreds of years old, but his role in the book is not a likeable one. He is a harsh, demanding character, demonstrating little emotion. I found this added conflict and made the story more interesting. Not your normal run-of-the mill novel, this book is well written, and takes a very unconventional approach to a well-known story. The story is compelling because it has an edge to it that leaves the reader disconcerted and therefore interested in reading onwards. The best word to describe it is haunting. A fascinating look into an feral civilization of turmoil and hardship.
If you are a Christian, and expecting to read a biblically based story, don't waste your time with this book.
“A Prize-Winner That Holds You in its Grips” If you thought you knew all there was to know about Noah and his family—think again! Once you start reading this magnificent novel, it will hold you in its grips and never let you go until you’ve finished the last page. Most of us are familiar with the age-old story of Noah and the Ark God commanded him to build, but a very significant, yet forgotten person in this event was his Wife—a strong-willed, courageous, level-headed soul with no name and a birthmark (called a stain at that time) over her eyebrow, both plaguing her for most of her life. Her Father, Eben, purposely did not name her so the people of their village could not speak of her harshly, or spread unfounded lies, such as that she was a demon, etc. She kept feeling that needed to know her worth and purpose in life. She had resigned herself to the fact that no man would ever want her for a wife, when, at the age of 19 yrs., (Much older than typical brides in and around their village) her Father, with the assistance of “Arrat the Storyteller” gave her to Noah, a 600 yr. old Prophet who follows and preaches God’s word and foretells of the great flood which will cleanse the earth of sinners. Sadly, they leave her beloved Father and her village behind and travel to Noah’s tent and his land on the outskirts of Sorum, “The town of exiles”, where people are “Branded” with an X on their foreheads due to their misdeeds. Noah had tried relentlessly to convert the corrupted souls and convince them to follow the laws of God. What an ugly place! What a journey! Noah’s Wife meets several unforgettable characters, including a barbaric, demonic young man named Jank, an incredibly strong, opinionated “Madam” of Sorum by the name of Javan and her mentally-challenged Daughter, Herai, of whom Wife becomes very close to and fond of. Noah’s Wife gives birth to three sons, Shem, Japheth, and Ham with Noah not paying much attention to his fast-growing sons or dedicated wife, but continues to ask God for guidance, including wisdom to choose the right wives for his sons, as they will be responsible for repopulating the earth. You quickly learn that people are not always who or what they seem. You will become disgusted by actions, gasping at some, feel the frustrations of both Noah and his Wife and the anger of their children, as well as the warm glow of love. Thank-you Ms. Kanner,for such an incredibly powerful, jaw-dropping, heart-stopping tale of one memorable woman. If there is one book to top your TBR list this summer, by all means, let it be this one. You won’t want to miss this sure-to-be prize-winner! Nancy Narma
Brilliant debut novel! I couldn't put it down.
The author is incredibley talented to have written such a detailed and suspensful novel. I was transported into a time in which I could never have imagined. Ihighly recommend this novel!
Like many readers, I wasn't familiar with the story of Noah's wife, beyond her being mentioned in Tanakh oh so briefly. Maybe its me as well, but there also wasn't mention of the names of Noah's son's wives for that matter. (If they are mentioned, can I be given a verse and a chapter to where they are mentioned?) Part of me worried that Sinners and the Sea will be very similar to The Red Tent, which I didn't like at all. But in this case, I was worried for nothing because instantly I was pulled into an amazing story before Abraham and Sarah and before Isaac and Rebecca and Jacob and Rachel and Leah. I really wish that The Red Tent by Anita Diamant would have been written the way this book was written.
I really enjoyed "Sinner and the Sea" by Rebecca Kanner. I fell in love with the cover and was so relieved that the story did not disappoint. The telling of the story reminded me of "The Red Tent". Kanner uses the themes from the bible to explain Noah's unnamed wife's trials. Simplistically one can say that this is the story of Noah's ark from his wife's point of view. In a way it is but it also creates a broader perspective to what this huge flood did to the people during this time period. I thought that the author was able to push some boundaries and push the question of what is right ? what is wrong? Would it change depending on the circumstances? Who are the "good" people? As the story unfolds we see how Noah's wife grows into herself. Her sorrow at being a burden to her father is very endearing. My heart went out to her as she carried undue guilt about circumstances and situations that were outside her control. The matter of the name reminded me of Toni Morrison's "Song of Solomon" and the power of names, what they mean, how they help to identify us, are they a burden or are they a gift? This theme intertwined throughout the story and developed a story of it's own. I read this book cover to cover. The author's interview at the end was very enlightening and I can't wait to read about Queen Esther in her next book. I love that the author is pushing for a woman's perspective in biblical stories and I love that she is not afraid of posing the difficult questions and providing unthought of or unseen female perspectives. I really enjoyed this story and highly recommend it.
A person’s faith is as unique as we all are from each other, sure there are some things that are alike in humans but there are still many differences, I think faith is the same way. Let me explain a little further so there is no confusion, you read a verse of scripture with a friend that friend says this verse means one thing while you feel that it means another, that is our own individual faith, one that cannot be found in a church but one that resides within us and is an extension of a personal relationship with whatever higher being we believe in, that is what drew me to Sinners and the Sea. I believe in many things but I still struggle through faith in things that cannot be proven scientifically which is another reason I picked up this book, but enough about this one to the review! I really enjoyed this book. This is the first time that I have read a historical fiction novel that pulls characters and events from the Bible so I was a little skeptical when I started to read it and even though it was not as action packed as those easy to read for entertainment reads I still kept continuously turning the pages. First daughter, than wife and last mother. We are all defined by our relationships and our narrator is no different but she ends up being the beginning of well a whole new beginning, evolutionary wise. Scorned, shunned, scared, and unsure our narrator grows into the role that she is to play in the lord’s plan. So even though the odds stacked against her for the port wine stain on her face, which pretty much everyone deems the responsibility of a demon that lives inside our narrator , she overcomes, her differences made her stronger.
There are two genres that I love, that I hop into sporadically throughout the year. Fairy tale retellings and Bible story retellings. Some of you may argue that they should be one and the same, but that is an argument for another day. Growing up Roman Catholic, most of the Old Testament (as well as the New) were either read to me, or I read them on my own. Some stories, many times over. So this is a special type of genre that I love to come back to again and again. At its most basic, the story of Noah and the ark is pretty recognizable, even for those that are non-Christian. And the beauty of retellings is that authors can bring to life, what are considered in the Bible as minor characters. Though I have been exposed to this story many times over, I have no memory, however minor, of Noah's wife. So it is without saying that I was fairly curious and excited to read this. It is definitely worth the read. It grabbed my attention from the very first paragraph, and it was quite difficult to put this novel down. I was surprised by the level of empathy that I felt for Noah's future wife so soon after beginning this novel, and it stayed with me until the very end. I was surprised by how flawed Noah's character was. Most of the time, I saw him as a pathetic creature caught up in listening to the voice of God, and forgetting to look around and smell the roses, so to speak. The antics of the people that he relentlessly and stubbornly attempted to convert never failed to amuse me, and yet, at the same time, it saddened me. I could understand the hopelessness that Noah sometimes felt when every attempt on his part failed so miserably. I did find this novel very cinematic, but I lost some of the believability of this story when the giant was introduced in the story. At one point, I was even a little confused on whether the giant was metaphoric, or supposed to be a real creature... or maybe a delirium? It was interesting element, but one that threw me off course, and I struggled a little bit to finish the novel at that point. But all in all, an enjoyable, well written story. * Thank you Netgalley/publisher for a copy of this novel for the purposes of an honest review. *
Sinners and the Sea is touted to be in the same vein as Anita Diamant's The Red Tent, which made me a bit nervous--such comparisons are usually unfair and incorrect. While I wouldn't say that this book brought The Red Tent to mind, I did greatly enjoy this book. The story is told from the point of view of Noah's wife (traditionally named Naamah, but she is unnamed in this work). I felt rather stupid while reading this book--I never thought about the role of Noah's wife in this whole story but, really, she is practically a second Eve--the mother of all--if you take a strict interpretation of the story. What I like best about the character of Noah's wife is that she is very dynamic--she grows during the course of the book and she does in a natural way. Many times, when a book is sort of centered around a character's growth, it doesn't come across realistically--but that is not the case here. I also really enjoyed reading the character of Noah. He started out not being at all the way I've always imagined Noah. I always pictured Noah as being sort of hermit, living away from all the sinners. Instead, here he is living among them and trying to "save" them. There is more than a bit of fire and brimstone about his tactics, but that begins to make sense as we get to know more about his character. I thoroughly enjoyed this book, but I did have a few quibbles. There were a couple--literally only 2 or 3--times in the book where the narrative of the action got a little muddy and I had to read the passage more than once to be sure I knew what was going on. There was also a minor plot point, in fact it may have been more of a detail, near the end of the book that was just too much for me and I found it a bit ridiculous. However, in the grand scheme of things, I found this to be an entertaining book that I will be recommending to others.
Everything about this book is incredible. After being lured in by the fascinating premise and gorgeous cover, I read the entire book in two days. I especially loved the fascinating characters and the way this otherwise meaningless tale (for me, no disrespect to the devout) was brought to life in such palpable detail. Wow! Seems this is Kanner's only (debut) novel. Will definitely be on the lookout for more from this talented author.
Impossible to put down! Kanner thoughtfully explores the delicate space between right and wrong in this complex and gorgeous novel that is at once magical, heartbreaking, and inspiring. Definitely a must read!
Rebecca Kanner in her new book, "Sinners And The Sea" published by Howard Books takes us into the life of Noah's wife. From the Inside Jacket Cover: 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--fated to become the mother of all generations after the great flood--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. Noah's wife struggles to know her own identity and value. 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. Ever wonder what life was like way back before the Flood? I read somewhere, sorry I have forgotten where, that all religions have some reference to a world flood. The Bible tells us that the world was full of sin and that there was only one family that could be spared destruction; Noah and his family. We pretty much are all familiar with Noah and what he did but we have never had a story of these events told us from the point of view of his wife. "Sinners And The Sea" has real drama in it and wonderful characters, not just Noah, his wife, his sons and their wives but the other inhabitants of the world that laughed and mocked this family before ultimately drowning. There is also romance. Ms. Kanner has built a back story for Mrs. Noah that is quite believable and her life with Noah is just like any married woman's life; filled with highs and lows. It is just hers has the most climatic moment is human history. Rebecca Kanner has done more than give us a fictionalized retelling of Biblical events she has given us some real depth of history and faith in God. It is a marvelous story. Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Howard Books for this review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."
Not Your Tyipical Biblical Fiction This is the story of Noah’s wife, who was never named by her father because of a mark on her brow. The people in their village would think she has a demon because of the mark, so her father thought it was better not to name her—in hopes that people wouldn’t talk too much about her. Now she’s 19 years old—older than most girls when they get married, but no one wanted to marry this ‘demon woman’. After someone was murdered, the nameless young woman was blamed and the town’s people were looking for a way to kill her. Her father was desperate and didn’t know how to protect her. When 600 years old Noah wants her for his wife, he gives her to this old man who serves the God of Adam. Together they journey to Noah’s home, close to a town full of wickedness. Everything is wicked, cursed, and dirty. People kill each other for no reason and there’s a lot of prostitution. This is the new home for Noah’s wife where she will conceive and raise their three sons. Noah is trying to convince the people to convert themselves to the God of Adam, but they only laugh and mock him. It gets worse when Noah is telling the people that God told him that he is going to destroy the earth and everything on it with a flood. Noah’s wife is telling her story how she got to be Noah’s wife, she’s telling about Noah’s flaws, her sons and how they found their wives, about the arc, and the flood, etc. It is an interesting story about how a family is trying to survive in a horrible time. It’s not a cheerful story—the only colors I saw in this book were ash grey, pitch black, and blood red. I liked the idea for this storyline and I think the author did a good job in portraying how wicked and vile men was back in those days. I was intrigued and kept turning the pages to see how things would work out. The narrating was good, but the dialogue wasn’t really flowing. I think readers who enjoy biblical fiction would like to read this book. *Thanks to the publisher for providing me with a review copy of this book through NetGalley in exchange for my honest opinion.*
Rebecca Kanner delivers a poignant and compelling story in her debut novel, Sinners and the Sea, as she casts a light and provides a distinct voice to the nameless, Biblical woman, Noah’s wife. She is an innocent child who was born with a grotesque birthmark over her brow—a defect that creates a stigma and perception of evil to all who come in contact with her. Committed to delivering her to a worthier life, her father’s mission is to release her from the painful existence that smothers his only child. When 600-year old Noah arrives in their village, her father betroths his only daughter to Noah. Reality hits hard when the thought occurs he may never see his daughter again as he watches the two disappear over the horizon. Noah and his new bride are destined for Sorum; a community full of violence and sexual sinners. As their lives together unfold and Noah’s wife delivers his three sons (Ham, Shem, and Japheth), she realizes her only true companion is loneliness. Noah converses far more with his God than with her as he preaches God’s message to the ill begotten dwellers of Sorum. Left to her loneliness, Noah’s wife attempts friendship with members of the fallen people of Sorum to no avail. After many failed attempts, she focuses her attentions on the rearing of their three sons. What comes as somewhat of a shock, however, are the signs of their sins despite the self-righteous upbringing they were exposed to. When Noah’s God informs him of plans to destroy the world by flood, Noah follows His specific instructions to build an ark. The construction of the vessel was the necessary key to the salvation needed for his wife, three sons, their wives and a bevy of animals in order to repopulate the new world. What none of them could possibly know, however, was the perilous journey they would navigate and endure to arrive at their new world. As they secure a stronghold on survival through the formidable forty days and forty nights, divine hope guides them in the end. Perhaps the only faith they needed was to believe their destiny truly was in the hands of the God Noah had spent his life’s devotion toward fulfilling—an unfaltering devotion to deliver His message to the people. Ms. Kanner has done an admirable job of breathing dimensional life into the nameless character of Noah’s wife. It is an honor to review authors who demonstrate confidence and command of their pen with eloquent style. Kanner is a true companion to her pen and while there are many scenes that depict clear pictures, one in particular truly grabbed my attention: “…Nothing but rain guards the ark. The only footsteps on deck are those of the clouds…” It is a pleasure to read the work of a fellow author who is able to deliver such depth to her work as a result of the careful placement of very few words. In my opinion, Kanner demonstrates her natural-born gift of writing in Sinners and the Sea. This was a well-written and captivating story. Quill says: Sinners and the Sea is a beautiful account of the importance of faith and perseverance as well as a strong message of learning how to rise above judgments as we endeavor to look beyond those who sit in judgment.
Exceptional read! If you like historical fiction, this book is an absolute must.
Outstanding, wildly imaginative!
Wonderful read!!!!!! This is the first book by this author that I have read. I know it is fiction but it was still very entertaining!
An author I will read again. Held my interest all through the book.