I admire Rebecca Kanner on many levels: her wit, intellect, grace, talent and her bravado for writing a novel that reimagines the story of Noah. This is not only a story about Noah…but about Noah’s Wife…a woman essentially left out of Biblical history. SINNERS AND THE SEA is a beautiful novel filled with intensity and language/character/setting central to Noah’s time and life. Writing a novel that recreates a Biblical story is never an easy task. Kanner has faced her share of controversy with grace, tact and respect. I am proud to share her interview on my site.
CL: This story made my heart race. It kept me intrigued. Tell me why you wanted to write a story about Noah’s wife?
RK: 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 G-d 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.
CL: I see Noah’s wife grow throughout the novel…from a woman who feels worthless due to her mark to a woman who carries the new world on her shoulders with pride. Could you relate to her journey on a personal level?
RK: Noah’s wife went on a voyage that I needed to go on when I wrote Sinners and the Sea—a search for identity, strength, and finally coming to terms with what she saw as a defect. She realizes that her “defect” has saved her life. The stain upon me has been my struggle with addiction to alcohol and drugs. It brought me pain and humiliation, but I’m grateful for it today. Without the addiction and fight to get sober I wouldn’t have found spirituality or learned to connect with others as deeply as I have in the last few years.
CL: What type of research did you do for this book?
RK: Initially I wondered if anything like this story was possible. 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. The rest of the research was just trying to figure out what might have been possible. Luckily I’m in a writers’ group with mystery writers, who tend to be more practical than most people. One of them happens to have been in the Navy. His help was invaluable.
CL: You’ve had mixed reactions to your novel. Tell me something about that.
RK: It’s wonderful to hear from a reader who had a meaningful encounter with my work. I still marvel that someone is reading something I worked on by myself for a couple of magical years.
The writing was very solitary, very personal, and I cannot help but feel vulnerable now as people take it off into their own corners of the world and read it without my supervision (gasp!). Now that I have a book in the world there are people who feel some connection to me which I can’t control.
It’s scary to hear from someone angry enough to write a nasty letter. I’ve come to realize just how different my relationship with the bible is from fundamentalists’ relationship to it.
As a girl I attended a small Jewish school where we were free to discuss and even disagree with religious writings. We treated the bible as an open text, a learning tool that allows for multiple interpretations. (I’ve always loved the saying, “Two Jews, three opinions!”)
In Sinners and the Sea I presented one explanation for why Noah’s wife wasn’t named in the bible. I didn’t think everyone would agree with this midrashic explanation, but I didn’t foresee the violent reactions that I’ve gotten from certain Christians. There seems to be a sense of ownership of the bible, even the Old Testament, among fundamentalist Christians. I don’t understand the urge to burn or ban a book, but clearly some people are threatened merely by my novel’s existence, and they want to make sure other people aren’t exposed to it.
Luckily, the positive feedback far outweighs the negative. You are a large part of the positive force I feel around me, Cynthia. Thank you.
CL: You’re welcome! I love the very last line of this novel. It was really beautiful and brought the whole book full circle. Was it difficult for you to say goodbye to her in the end?
RK: It was horrible to finish the novel. I thought I would be relieved to have met my deadline, and I was, for about five minutes. Then I felt utterly lost. I missed Noah and the gang. I missed the prostitutes and mercenaries. I missed 3000 B.C.E. I fell into a depression which was only eased by diving into my next book, which actually I had been trying to work on for years. I hadn’t yet found the voice. When I did, it swept me away.
CL: What is the next book you’re working on?
RK: I just submitted the first draft of a novel about Queen Esther to my agent. Esther is a Jewish orphan who is rounded up with dozens of other beautiful girls and brought to the harem of King Xerxes where she learns that the palace is a dangerous place and that she is not the only one with a secret. She must stand out from the other girls in order to win the king, and she must learn to navigate palace politics if she wishes to survive.
CL: What piece of advice do you have for anyone writing religious fiction?
RK: I don’t think of my novel so much as religious fiction as a combination of biblical fiction, historical fiction, and fantasy. If I were going to give someone advice about biblical writing, first and foremost I would tell her to expect that some people will be upset about creative license or with having sex and violence in a biblical story. (Apparently people who haven’t read the Old Testament very carefully!) Also, I didn’t include an author’s note with my book. I think it would have been good to explain the choices I made and where I was coming from. I’ll definitely do this with my book about Esther, which is bound to offend someone because of its sexual content.
Find out more about Rebecca Kanner Here.
You can purchase SINNERS AND THE SEA here: