If one of Rebecca Kanner’s goals in “Sinners and the Sea” was to paint a vivid picture of the depravity that made up antediluvian society, she succeeded. Using the unnamed and scorned wife of Noah as first-person narrator, Kanner creates a society virtually lacking in law, and anyone who is different is in constant danger.
Noah’s wife, unnamed by her parents due to a birthmark, is ultimately saved from her own village’s people who are certain it is a mark of a demon. Noah takes her to a new but even more evil city. Scorned by her new townspeople, the dark life of Noah’s wife is illumined briefly during the births and childhoods of her three sons. That serenity comes to an end as Noah is given the commandment to build the ark.
While each of the main characters are developed well, there are at times confusing interludes involving minor or recurring characters who come off as either contrived or insignificant. The progression of Noah’s middle son, Japheth, from pious to zealot seems to come out of nowhere. A theme is made of the lack of a name for Noah’s wife, but each of the son’s wives, unnamed in Genesis, is given a name in this work.
This is an interesting elucidation of a society in such disarray that God would desire its destruction, and the latter part of the book exams what it means to be truly alone in the world. Some of the gaps in character development and the ponderous nature of the pre-flood narrative detract from, but do not ultimately undermine, this book.
Rabbi Daniel Plotkin, education director, Beth Shalom Congregation