Monday, May 12, 2014

Blog Tour: Sinners and the Sea by Rebecca Kanner (Review)

Published: April 2nd, 2013 (Howard Books)
Pages: 304
Rating: 3/5

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 give

s 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.

Most of us are taught the story of Noah and the ark when we’re young. It usually goes something like this: Noah was a jolly old man, the only good man left on the earth. Everyone else misbehaved. God told Noah to build a boat because God was going to send a flood. Animal couples came and got on the ark with Noah and his wife and three sons and their wives, and it rained and rained and rained. Then it stopped, and everyone got off the ark, and there was a pretty rainbow. The End.

The sad thing is, I think I’ve carried that version of the story into my adulthood. Maybe most of us do. But Rebecca’s novel is nothing like that. Told from the perspective of Noah’s unnamed, virtually unknown wife, Sinners and the Sea is gritty and dark. It delves into the details of Noah’s life, the sin and evil that vastly covered the earth, the flood, and everything in between. It opens up the raw, harsh specifics that you never really thought about before (and maybe don’t want to think about). The character of Noah’s wife is so unique- I love how we see her grow from young outcast to strong woman. I wasn’t quite pleased with how Noah was portrayed at first, but I soon realized that Kanner’s description is probably accurate of who he was. I was kind of surprised at the varying personalities of Shem, Ham, and Japheth. Yet through both my disgust and my surprise, I realized that they weren’t perfect, and they weren’t supposed to be. They were humans, part of mankind, sinners. And though God had cleansed the earth of the evil that had inhabited it before, Shem, Ham, and Japheth would continue to sin and their sons would sin and their grandsons would sin, and so on. This sin would lead up to the greatest act in history- Jesus Christ’s death on the cross, to take away sin, to fill the gap. So that there could be a flood of forgiveness, if you will. J


There seems to be a steady trend in entertainment and media recently. There’s a curious focus on the story of Noah and his ark, and the events surrounding the flood. However, I haven’t yet run across a version of the story (whether in movies, books, etc) that has it right. I don’t know why people feel the need to embellish this story. The Biblical text has been interpreted in so many outrageous ways by so many people for so long- but I guess this is the case for the whole Bible, sadly. And yet, with Noah’s story, it seems to be done more often- magical is added, detail is subtracted, whatever the case may be. I feel like for the most part, Rebecca did an excellent job telling the story in its true form. I was a bit skeptical of the giants or “Nephilims” at first, until I checked my own Bible and discovered them to be there as well. The one thing that I feel was highly misrepresented was God. And, well, He’s kind of an important part.

He was seen as an angry God, and even Kanner admits this in her interview here. She even goes so far as to say that the God in her book is “imperfect” and “makes mistakes.” I don’t know which god she’s talking about, but the One I know is certainly not imperfect. He’s a wrathful God, yes. He punishes sin, yes. But that’s not the part I have an issue with. It’s the “imperfect” part I have an issue with. I’d like to also mention that I was disappointed that Kanner failed to mention any part of God’s covenant with Noah: aka the first rainbow. That’s an essential part of the story- it’s a symbol of God’s love and His promise to never flood the earth again. The story is lacking without the rainbow. And without the rainbow, God is portrayed only as an angry God, void of love and commitment. Long story short, this was the sole issue I had with this book, and thus dropped my rating from four stars to three.

Overall, I enjoyed this life-changing story told from the eyes of Noah’s wife. It truly altered my view on the story of Noah, the ark, and the flood, in such a way that I’ll never look at it the same again. It’s not an easy ride- it’s a story full of violence, emotional, and heartache. But it’ll move you, guaranteed.

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

“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

“First-time novelist Kanner has written an utterly absorbing novel, one that flows seamlessly.” – Historical Novel Society

About the Author

Sinners and the Sea is Rebecca Kanner’s debut novel. Rebecca is a Twin Cities native and holds 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.

You can learn more about Rebecca, and find links to selected stories and essays, at You can also find her onFacebook and Twitter.

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