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In this retelling of the Biblical Flood, author David Maine fleshes out the real people in the story. Noe (Maine uses the spellings of the names in the 1914 Douay Bible) is a man of faith and visions who takes his unnamed wife for granted. Sem is a man who seeks signs in every detail, married to Bera, a woman who used to be enslaved. Cham left home to be a shipbuilder and married a shipwrecked northern woman, Ilya. Japheth is the youngest and most irresponsible but he’s married to Mirn, a young woman whose observations and intelligence are overlooked by everyone.
I’ve known this story for my entire life but this take felt fresh enough to keep my interest. I just re-read the King James version and I appreciate the way that Maine wove together the bare bones of an epic tale into something that feels more human somehow. Even with the visions and miracles, Noe and company felt like people I know. They squabble, have doubts, get bored out of their minds, shirk work, and get overly superstitious. Mostly, they get really, really tired of being trapped on the ark and endlessly mucking it out. Who can blame them?
The book is fairly short, at 230 pages. The section describing being on the actual ark, floating for 150 days even after the rain stopped, could have killed the pacing. But the author showed us just enough to let us know how mind-numbing it would be. A few events happen and then he moves on to after the waters recede. It was deftly handled.
What I really liked is that we finally see more of the women in the story. In the King James version (the one I grew up with), none of the women are named. I don’t know if that’s different anywhere else. I liked that Maine remained true to his source and leaves Noe’s wife’s name a mystery–and that her namelessness bothers her. Whether for the sake of clarity or using a source I’m unfamiliar with, the daughters-in-law have their own names and stories that feel true to the times. A former slave, a trader’s daughter, and an orphan (I believe). I loved that they made their own invaluable contributions to the survival of all life upon the earth and that they have their own ideas and observations–and are at the heart of some unrecorded miracles.
I wish you could see the real cover of the book. The flood waters are the dust jacket. When you remove it, you see Noe’s family loading the animals on the ark. It’s very nicely done.
I recommend this as an interesting take on an old, old story. I could have ripped through it in a day but I chose to savor it over about a week instead.
If you liked The Preservationist, you might also like my reviews of
- Mary, Called Magdalene by Margaret George
- Circe by Madeline Miller
- Cleopatra’s Daughter by Michelle Moran
Buy The Preservationist from Malaprop’s Bookstore in beautiful Asheville, NC or