If there’s anything I wish for you, it’s that you have a family and all the joy you can possibly have in life. To not overthink it. Because no matter what our lives could have been every version would have been filled with shit we’d had to deal with
In Naamah, Sarah Blake creates a lyrical and magical (more than it already was) retelling of one of the most beloved Bible stories. But Naamah is, above all perhaps, a feminist retelling so it centers around Noah’s wife of that same name (according to some traditions). Noah is the messenger and it is his mission to repopulate the world after the terrible flood, but he was a member of a patriarchal society and there was a lot of work to be done in that year they were to spend on the ark. So, it was to be expected that Naamah, his wife, would have a big role to play, and honestly, do most of the heavy work once the ark sailed. God didn’t chose to talk to her, to comfort her, to clear any doubts, so how did she feel with this grave mission that was not hers and yet it would only succeed if she did her part? What does it feel like to be trapped in an ark with smelly animals and your close family members for one year? Imagine a thanksgiving dinner in a barn that last a year?! What about your love ones that you had to leave behind knowing they would drown ‘cause God didn’t consider them worthy ? What would happen to all those dead bodies, of animals and humans alike? Isn’t it depressing when it doesn’t stop raining for 40 days and you can’t really even chill at the deck? How do you care for the animals being mindful of the food chain when you only have a few of each kind and they need to survive?
The reality of what has happened and it it means shocks, disgusts, frustrates and depresses Naamah. The world has been destroyed, all of her loved ones are gone and no one has been saved except for her immediate family: her three sons and their wives. God spoke to Noah, loves Noah… but is she saved for her own merits or because of her relationship with Noah? If she only saved because there is a lot of work to be done and it cannot be expected that Noah will be able to do it all alone? Naamah is bisexual, does that mean that she would otherwise be considered unworthy? Is she really better that all others who perished?
She’s stuck in an Ark, taking care of her family and animals (which is not an easy task) and dealing with the trauma of the destruction of the world and mourning her dead lover. Mentally, she’s struggling. She hold a grudge against God for all that happened. She is struggling with her faith. She questions God openly in private.
But the book is not only about that and the boiling frustration, depression and disgust that Naamah feels confronting her reality at the ark. It is also about what makes a woman and how it feels to be a woman, and if she sees herself as a woman.
“I’ve been thinking”, she says, “about what makes a woman”.
“I don’t want it to depend on being a mother, even if it has for me. I don’t want it to depend on genitals. I think very little of a man’s genitals. But with my uterus comes my period. It’s not how my life is marked, how I experience this monthly reminder that I am this body and not another – and monthly is so often. But there are choices I make, and others make, because of it. How we deal with how much it hurts, if we decide to speak it. How we deal with the blood.”
“But I think we could be women without these choices”.
At one point, Naamah confesses that we doesn’t want to be a man or a woman, she want’s to be something all together different.
The book is very descriptive when it comes to what it feels to be a woman, biologically speaking, especially, motherhood. As a mother, I find myself reflected in Naamah’s feelings on motherhood:
No one’s body was her but her own. But after growing Japheth, after seeing the shape of his head through her skin, she felt deeply that his body was her own.
The book is also very descriptive when it comes to sex, both with men and women, but in a non-sexualized way, more like an anatomy lesson, a lesson on feelings and physical experience. It also touches on abortion, pregnancy, emotional connection between women and accepting God’s will.
It excels as a feminist retelling bringing to life the voice of women who were not mentioned in the scriptures. Even if Naamah is going through some anxiety and frustration, the novel is not a heavy read and continues to entertain through its use of magical realism. It could not recommend this book enough.