In the Shadow of the Ark
In her third novel The Rose and the Pig (1997) Anne Provoost tackles the theme of Beauty and the Beast. In her most recent book In the Shadow of the Ark she takes her inspiration from the Biblical account of the Flood. With her family the main character, Re Jana, leaves the rising water levels of the marshy areas for the desert where it is rumoured that the largest vessel of all time is being built. It seems an absurd undertaking, but as a boat-builder Re Jana’s father is able to convince the chief engineer and his three sons of his expertise and he finds a new home for his family. A forbidden love blossoms between Re Jana and the youngest son Cham.
As the work progresses more and more questions are raised and the chief engineer can no longer hide the fact that the vessel is not for everyone but only for all species of animal and a select company of human beings. When the Flood actually arrives everyone wants to get aboard, but that is firmly prevented. With the help of Cham Re Jana is able smuggle herself aboard as a stowaway. Life on the ark is gruelling and dangerous. Shifting power relationships, betrayal and rejection and finally starvation threaten to prove fatal to those on board. But then the ark runs aground and Re Jana’s son can become the founder of a new dynasty in a new – though not better – world.
Anne Provoost enthrals the reader with a chronicle of quickly changing events in what is nevertheless a calmly developing story, with vivid scenes that appeal strongly to the imagination. For this purpose she uses a sober, aloof, slightly solemn style that occasionally strikes a somewhat Biblical note. Still, she does not follow the Bible story entirely faithfully: she adds new characters and particularly places personal contemporary emphases. For example, she confronts the human and tight-knit culture of the marsh-dwellers from which Re Jana comes with the strictly controlled lifestyle of the ark-builders. She questions what each person considers good and evil. She has reservations about the control that the one god of the ark-builder demands over the actions of his subjects, and their free will. But what she finds particularly perplexing is the notion that a merciful god should select some people and allow the others to endure a dreadful fate, on very questionable grounds.
In this way this Old Testament story, which in the first instance carries the reader along with a turbulent adventure, also becomes, for those already able to read with some insight, a striking metaphor for the contemporary world.