Naamah: A Novel
by Sarah Blake
Historical Fiction / LGBT
Published April 2019
It took me until just now, staring at my screen, to realize those are supposed to be water droplets on the cover, distorting the image behind them. Fitting, with the huge part that water plays in this story. Most of the narrative takes place aboard the ark during the flood – water is ever-present and overwhelming.
Naamah is an odd novel. I can’t really explain why I chose to read it; I’d heard that Naamah was bisexual in the book, and I think maybe a queer, feminist retelling of a Bible story appealed to me? It then took me a month or so to get around to actually reading it because of the Bible story part!
The narrative, while always told from Naamah’s point of view, dips into her memories, where we learn about the widow Bethel, her lover before the flood, and into Naamah’s dreams, where we meet Sarai. Sarai, or Sarah, is Abraham’s wife in the future. Well. Naamah’s future. Our ancient past. Sarai shows Naamah the far future – our present – and claims to have ascended to near godhood. She seems to take pity on Naamah’s despair, trying to show her what her time on the ark begets later. It’s strange.
Naamah is clearly depressed, and sorting out her dreams from what is actually happening is difficult for both her and the reader, I think. The whole book is fuzzy and a little dream-like.
It’s interesting, but I can’t say I’d recommend it.
From the cover of Naamah:
With the coming of the Great Flood – the mother of all disasters – only one family is spared, left drifting on the endless waters, waiting for them to subside. We know the story of Noah, moved by divine word to build an ark and launch an escape. Now, in a work of astounding invention, Sarah Blake reclaims the story of his wife, Naamah, the matriarch who kept them alive. Here is the woman torn between faith and fury, lending her strength to her sons and their wives, caring for an unruly menagerie of restless creatures while silently mourning the lover she left behind. Here is the woman escaping into the unreceded waters, where a seductive angel tempts her to join a strange and haunted world. Here is the woman tormented by dreams and questions of her own – questions of devotion and self-determination, of history and memory, of the kindness or cruelty of fate.
In fresh and modern language, Blake revisits the story of the ark and discovers the agonizing burdens endured by the woman at the center of it all. Naamah is a parable for our time: a provocative fable of body, spirit, and resilience.