Poetic, primal, and asking questions we’ve been too afraid to speak aloud, Sarah Blake has captured something so timely in such a timeless way, I don’t see any other option but to devour this book.
Naamah is the story about Noah’s wife—who is left unnamed in the original text—and her experience on the Ark. This is a book about doubt, about the human experience, where we were as people in the beginning of time and the way it parallels the way we are now.
Blake is a poet—I don’t know how I’m just finding out about this, but I’ve already added her collections to my ever growing list—and you can tell, with how gorgeous the writing is. The dialogue is modern, which helps keep a strong rhythm, but there’s something that’s also so biblical in how the prose is written. There’s a line from A Streetcar Named Desire, describing Blanche’s letters ‘yellowing with antiquity’ and I’m not even lying, that’s how it felt—like everything around me dissolved, yellowed, brought me back to this time on the Ark. I don’t read a lot of books like this, so I can’t compare it to others, but it made me want to.
Naamah is so fully realized, I cried at the thought of saying goodbye to her when I turned the last page. She’s frustrated, furious, yearning, heartbroken, and confused, and there are no real answers or solutions to her needs. I began to realize, this is a book about a woman who knows she is intelligent, thoughtful, worthy, and so much more, and yet her husband is the chosen one. She doesn’t really have much choice in this whole situation but to follow a man or die. And you can tell she loves her husband, and that she wants to have faith, but that she’s struggling. Women aren’t given enough credit for their complexity and nuance in a lot of books—especially books that take place in another time period—but this was a reminder that women have known since the beginning that they aren’t always valued in the way they should be.
Speaking of under representation of women’s interior struggles in literature, this book has a lot of sex, and it’s not sex like I’ve read before. These were not sex scenes cast in a male gaze, and in fact, most of the sex scenes don’t even include a man. They’re technical, and they seem less like erotic scenes than observations of human behavior. These aren’t meant to arouse, but to explore where these characters are at in their relationships and in their lives. They’re descriptive because this is a book about people who are stripped of so many things they’re used to, so they become more observant to the things they have or what they’ve experienced before. Upon finishing the book, I realized just how necessary the scenes were to understanding Naamah so fully.
This is a strange book. There are ghosts and angels and vessels through which God speaks, and at times it’s familiar and at times totally new. Something I appreciated is that this isn’t really a book about whether or not a person is questioning God’s existence, but questioning his plan and his choices as the almighty. I think it pushed past all of the same questions we always see and searched for something deeper. Why would God only tell Noah about this plan? Why should we trust a God who would kill everyone on earth, but spare these few people? They’re valid questions, and we don’t always get the most comforting answers—if an answer, at all.
Personal experience colors our reception of all things in life, including how we read. When I see books based on biblical stories, my first two questions are: is this going to tell me I’m going to hell? or is this going to be so blasphemous that it sends me to hell? (Can you tell I was raised Pentecostal?) What I found so interesting about Naamah is that it’s not either of those books. In a world that creates a binary between Christian fiction and satanic verses, Naamah has found itself set apart. This book never felt preachy, but it does respect its source material in a way that is accessible to all readers.
If you’ve read this book, please let me know your thoughts! If you haven’t, hopefully this review will convince you to read it now.
By Sarah Blake
306 pages. 2019.
Buy it here.