Summary and book reviews of Waiting for Eden by Elliot Ackerman

Waiting for Eden

by Elliot Ackerman

Waiting for Eden by Elliot Ackerman X
Waiting for Eden by Elliot Ackerman
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  • First Published:
    Sep 2018, 192 pages
    Paperback:
    Sep 2019, 240 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs
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About this Book

Book Summary

From the National Book Award finalist, a breathtakingly spare and shattering new novel that traces the intersection of three star-crossed lives.

Eden Malcom lies in a bed, unable to move or to speak, imprisoned in his own mind. His wife Mary spends every day on the sofa in his hospital room. He has never even met their young daughter. And he will never again see the friend and fellow soldier who didn't make it back home - and who narrates the novel. But on Christmas, the one day Mary is not at his bedside, Eden's re-ordered consciousness comes flickering alive. As he begins to find a way to communicate, some troubling truths about his marriage - and about his life before he went to war - come to the surface. Is Eden the same man he once was: a husband, a friend, a father-to-be? What makes a life worth living? A piercingly insightful, deeply felt meditation on loyalty and betrayal, love and fear, Waiting for Eden is a tour de force of profound humanity.

Excerpt
Waiting for Eden

I want you to understand Mary and what she did. But I don't know if you will. You've got to wonder if in the end you'd make the same choice, circumstances being similar, or even the same, God help you. Back when I first met her and Eden times were better. They were trying to start a family then. And months later, on that night in the Hamrin Valley, I was sitting next to Eden and luckier than him when our Humvee hit a pressure plate, killing me and everybody else, him barely surviving.

Ever since then I've been around too, just on that other side, seeing all there is, and waiting.

Three years have gone by and my friend's spent every day of it laid out in that burn center in San Antonio. I could give you the catalogue of his injuries, but I won't. Not because I don't think you could stomach it, but because I don't think it'd really tell you much about what type of a way he's in. So I'll tell you this: he used ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. Who is the narrator of the novel? How does he know Mary and Eden's story? How does Ackerman's decision to narrate from this point of view deepen the reader's understanding of Mary and Eden's lives?
  2. Examine the symbolism of the cockroaches. How does Eden understand their presence? What do they represent to him?
  3. How would you describe Eden's level of consciousness? What does he register about his reality? To what extent is his perception of reality distorted? Is there anything he is sure of? Are the nurses correct in their assessment of Eden's level of consciousness?
  4. Consider the theme of pain as it is depicted in the novel. Which characters experience pain, and what type of pain do they experience? Do you ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Make no mistake, the novel is a grim one, and there are no answers to these important questions within its pages; its graphic nature may also make it a challenging read for some. Nevertheless, I thought it was one of the most haunting narratives I’ve encountered in a long time, and I’ve continued to mull it over in the weeks since I read it; it was a powerful and affecting story. Waiting for Eden is my highest-rated book of the year to-date; its weighty themes make it an especially good choice for group discussion...continued

Full Review (535 words).

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(Reviewed by Kim Kovacs).

Media Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. This is a deeply touching exploration of resentment, longing, and loss among those who volunteer to fight and the loved ones left behind.

Booklist
Starred Review. Gorgeously constructed ... Ackerman's focus on a single family makes the costs of war heartbreakingly clear, as does his drawing emotion and import from the smallest of acts with incredible skill ... A wonderful novel.

Library Journal
Starred Review. With sparse prose and a deft pen, Ackerman writes a profound meditation on the liminal space between our past, present, and future.

Kirkus Reviews
Starred Review. An affecting, spare, and unusual novel.

Reader Reviews

Sandi W.

genius of consciousness
Given the time to think about this book for the last two days, I have changed my rating from 4 stars to 5 stars. Not many books get this rating from me, but in afterthought I truly believe that this book should be one of them. Such a sad book. Sad...   Read More

Diane S.

Waiting for Eden
Many moons ago, when I was a junior in high school I read a book for my contemporary history class, called, Johnny got his gun. Several years back I read a novel called, Never let you go, and I had such a strong, visceral reaction to those two books ...   Read More

Suzy Approved

Tugged At My Heart
Eden Malcolm is an Iraqi war veteran who was severely burned by an explosion during a tour. He has been hospitalized for several years and is unable to move or communicate. He is visited daily by his wife, Mary, and has never seen his young daughter ...   Read More

Susan Thomas

Well-written, but very fictionalized medical care
It would have been a 4, except for the following reasons discussed. Read this for my book group and while I really wanted to like it for its writing style, I could not look past the lack of medical and nursing knowledge to get there. I tried to ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

SERE

SERE LogoIn Elliot Ackerman's novel Waiting for Eden, a pivotal scene is set at the Marine Corp's SERE school.

SERE is an acronym that stands for "Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape." Created by the U.S. Air Force at the end of World War II, the program was modeled after the experiences of British and US aviators who were able to evade and escape the enemy. In the 1950s and 1960s, CIA interrogation practices were incorporated. SERE was later shaped into its current format by LTC Nick Rowe who observed the deficiencies of the military's training techniques during his five years of captivity during the Vietnam War. SERE training methods were adopted by the other services with each branch developing their own specific curriculum...

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