Howard Norman was just skating through life when he accepted a museum assignment in Churchill, Manitoba, to translate the Noah foltakes, as told by an Inuit, into English. Within days of arrival he met Helen Tanizaki, a linguist translating the same stories into Japanese.
Tanizaki, a decade older than Howard, was a smart, strong woman dying of stomach cancer. Her well-researched, philosophical approach to aspects of her life is admirable and yet not envied. She herself admitted that the examined life is somewhat melancholic.
They form a close intellectual friendship with an emotional undercurrent that remains unspoken. (Who's closer to you than the person to whom you bequeath your ashes?) Howard's vignettes of his autumn with Tanizaki in the far north are interwoven with the Noah stories, alternative tales of the Ark getting icebound in Hudson's Bay.
In each story, Noah does not see the Ark's animals as food and refuses to share them with the natives through the winter. He also rejects the locals offers of help, though in some of the stories his family moves to the native village. In all the stories, the Ark breaks apart and sinks. Sometimes Noah drowns, sometimes he survives to walk south in the spring. In some stories, his family goes south with him, sometimes they stay behind.
This beautiful little book displays Howard's recognition of how much Tanizaki influenced his life. It is his memorial to her more than twenty years after her death.