The Guardian. Saturday September 11, 2004
Adèle Geras

Noah and the flood provide the background to Anne Provoost's memorable In the Shadow of the Ark.
The Unnameable, as God is called in this novel about the flood, is a demanding deity and books in which he has a starring role, albeit offstage, tend to be sonorous and weighty. It's almost as though they're trying to catch the tone of the Bible, and the thing that's missing from the mix most of the time is any leavening of humour or jokiness. But although enjoyable is not a word one would use to describe Anne Provoost's novel, its very horribleness is fascinating and the account is so detailed that readers will almost need to wring their clothes out as they follow the story.

It's told from the point of view of a young woman called Re Jana, who comes to the place where the Builder (he is never called Noah) has set up a kind of shipyard. Re Jana, her father and her crippled mother, together with a boy called Put, set up camp alongside the shipyard. The love affair between Re Jana and the Builder's son, Ham, the consequences of rifts in both families and the final, extended section which deals with the flood, make up a novel that has so much in it of interest that it will certainly repay rereading.

The Builder is depicted as an autocratic and stubborn old man, and the conflict he has with one of his sons has dramatic and unexpected results. The fate of Re Jana's mother, though understated in the text, is horrifying, and the description of the privations aboard the Ark are even more uncomfortable than you'd expect. The famous dove appears but does not follow the script set out for her in the Bible.

Cervantes said that translation was like the back of a tapestry: you can make out the pattern, but nuances and fine detail disappear. But in this case John Nieuwenhuizen's version is stately, plain and elegant and all credit to Simon & Schuster for producing such a beautiful volume. A small quibble: the young woman on the cover could perhaps have been a little more Middle Eastern in appearance. Without giving anything away, there are a couple of indications in the text that Re Jana is darker-skinned than she appears here. This may not be entirely a young adult's novel. Some teenagers will find it too slow and may decide that not enough happens on the way to the possible end of the world, but for those who don't demand a whizz-bang book every single time, there's much here to remember.