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Reviews of This Other Eden by Paul Harding

This Other Eden

A Novel

by Paul Harding

This Other Eden by Paul Harding X
This Other Eden by Paul Harding
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Jan 2023, 224 pages

    Paperback:
    Dec 2023, 224 pages

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About this Book

Book Summary

From the Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Tinkers, a novel inspired by the true story of Malaga Island, an isolated island off the coast of Maine that became one of the first racially integrated towns in the Northeast.

In 1792, formerly enslaved Benjamin Honey and his Irish wife, Patience, discover an island where they can make a life together. Over a century later, the Honeys' descendants and a diverse group of neighbors are desperately poor, isolated, and often hungry, but nevertheless protected from the hostility awaiting them on the mainland.

During the tumultuous summer of 1912, Matthew Diamond, a retired, idealistic but prejudiced schoolteacher-turned-missionary, disrupts the community's fragile balance through his efforts to educate its children. His presence attracts the attention of authorities on the mainland who, under the influence of the eugenics-thinking popular among progressives of the day, decide to forcibly evacuate the island, institutionalize its residents, and develop the island as a vacation destination. Beginning with a hurricane flood reminiscent of the story of Noah's Ark, the novel ends with yet another Ark.

In prose of breathtaking beauty and power, Paul Harding brings to life an unforgettable cast of characters: Iris and Violet McDermott, sisters raising three orphaned Penobscot children; Theophilus and Candace Larks and their brood of vagabond children; the prophetic Zachary Hand to God Proverbs, a Civil War veteran who lives in a hollow tree; and more. A spellbinding story of resistance and survival, This Other Eden is an enduring testament to the struggle to preserve human dignity in the face of intolerance and injustice.

Excerpt
This Other Eden

Benjamin Honey—American, Bantu, Igbo—born enslaved—freed or fled at fifteen, only he ever knew—ship's carpenter, aspiring orchardist, arrived on the island with his wife, Patience, née Raferty, Galway girl, in 1793. He brought his bag of tools—gifts from a grateful captain he had saved from drowning or plunder from a ship on which he had mutinied and murdered the captain, depending on who said—and a watertight wooden box containing twelve jute pouches. Each pouch held seeds for a different variety of apple. Honey collected the seeds during his years as a field-worker and later as a sailor. He remembered being in an orchard as a child, although not where or when, with his mother, or with a woman whose face over the years had become what he pictured as his mother's, and he remembered the fragrance of the trees and their fruit. The memory became a vision of the garden to which he meant to return. No mystery, it was Eden. ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide will contain spoilers!

  1. A major theme of Paul Harding's This Other Eden is kinship—honored, chosen, enforced, cherished, perverted, and otherwise. How do the dynamics of kinship change throughout the novel and what does kinship mean for Harding's characters?
  2. Rather than beginning the novel with the current generation of Honeys, Esther and Eha, Harding opens with the story of their ancestors, Irish-born Patience and formerly enslaved Benjamin, who first arrived on the island more than a century earlier. How does Harding weave together the different generations and storylines to explore the interconnectedness of his characters, past and present?
  3. Consider this interconnectedness across generations. What might Harding be saying about belonging and ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Gracefully written in magisterial and poetic language, Apple Island itself becomes a fully developed character. Despite its slimness (a bit over 200 pages), the book demands concentration and focus but the rewards are abundant (Jill S). It is not an easy story to read, and many parts are shocking, but the narrative voice treats the main characters with respect and gentleness. I was swept into its time and location, and found myself caring deeply about the residents of Apple Island. There's so much depth in theme, richness in detail and beautiful prose to savor that I have no qualms in calling it a masterpiece (Joan R). This remarkable, understated, luminous novel is well worth reading. Given the issues Harding explores, it would make an outstanding book club selection (Eileen C)...continued

Full Review (735 words)

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(Reviewed by BookBrowse First Impression Reviewers).

Media Reviews

LA Times
Harding, who won a dark-horse Pulitzer Prize for Tinkers, again demonstrates his gifts for concision and compassion in a narrative that balances historical fact with fully drawn characters...Sure to be a standout of 2023.

New York Times
This Other Eden is ultimately a testament of love: love of kin, love of nature, love of art, love of self, love of home. Harding has written a novel out of poetry and sunlight, violent history and tender remembering. The humans he has created are, thankfully, not flattened into props and gimmicks, which sometimes happens when writers work across time and difference; instead they pulse with aliveness, dreamlike but tangible, so real it could make you weep.

The Guardian (UK)
Harding's gifts have found their fullest expression in This Other Eden. Pick any excerpt from these 200 pages and you will find that each sentence contains multitudes and works well by itself, and yet the chapters, the paragraphs, have also been sewn together into a numinous whole…. The novel impresses time and again because of the depth of Harding's sentences, their breathless angelic light.

Booklist (starred review)
A superb achievement…Harding combines an engrossing plot with deft characterizations and alluring language deeply attuned to nature's artistry. The biblical parallels, which naturally align with the characters' circumstances, add depth, and enhance the universality of the themes.

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
Harding's third novel revisits an appalling moment in Maine history…a brief book that carries the weight of history. A moving account of community and displacement.

Library Journal (starred review)
Harding's luscious, perfectly knit narrative delivers a sober understanding of human nature and racial hatred.

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
Harding's close-third narration gives shape and weight to the community members' complicated feelings about their displacement, while his magisterial prose captures a sense of place ("the island a granite pebble in the frigid Atlantic shallows"). It's a remarkable achievement.

Author Blurb Elizabeth McCracken, author of The Souvenir Museum
There is no writer alive anything like Paul Harding, and This Other Eden proves it: astonishingly beautiful, humane, strange, interested in philosophy and the heart, stunningly written. It's about home, love, heredity, cruelty, and the very nature of art, so completely original it's hard to know how to describe it in a mere blurb, by which I mean: you must read this book.

Author Blurb Esi Edugyan, author of Washington Black
In boldly lyrical prose, This Other Eden shows us a once-thriving racial utopia in its final days, at a time when race and science were colliding in chilling ways. In the stories of the Apple Islanders―especially that of Ethan Honey, spared a destructive fate because of his artistic gifts and his fair skin―we are made to confront the ambiguous nature of mercy, the limits of tolerance, and what it means to be truly saved. A luminous, thought-provoking novel.

Author Blurb Major Jackson, author of The Absurd Man
Tender, magical, and haunting, Paul Harding's This Other Eden is that rare novel that makes profound claims on our present age while being, very simply, a graceful performance of language and storytelling. Here is prose that touchingly holds its imagined island community in a light that can only be described as generous and dazzling. I have not read a novel this achingly beautiful in a while, nor one in which the fate of its characters I will not soon forget.

Reader Reviews

Sriram

Review of This other eden by Paul harding
In this novel, Paul Harding walks with Faulkner and McCarthy to pen a ferocious subsistence writing about suffering, incest, race, art, and faith -- and floods and fires; and unlike most contemporary authors, Harding seriously courts religiosity, ...   Read More
Marian Y. (Troutdale, OR)

This Other Eden by Paul Harding
"This Other Eden" is a remarkable book of historical fiction based on a disturbing true story from the early twentieth century on an island off the coast of Maine.  Built around the themes of heritage and home, the story is told in language so rich ...   Read More
Laurie M. (Bellingham, WA)

Five Star Read
If you’re tired of mindless thrillers, poorly written stories, books that make you say “meh” The Other Eden is waiting for you. It BLEW me away. Based on a sad piece of American history, it is the story of a small island off the coast of Maine, ...   Read More
Kathrin C. (Corona, CA)

This Other Eden
This is an outstanding work of historical fiction, so beautifully written, but also, sometimes painful to read. I had never heard of Malaga Island off the coast of Maine, and how it fit in with America's ongoing history of racism, intolerance and ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

The Malaga Island Eviction of 1912

Black and white photo of dark-skinned family standing in front of a small house on Malaga IslandPaul Harding's novel This Other Eden takes place on Apple Island, where a Christian missionary arrives and becomes a catalyst for the destruction of a flourishing community of vulnerable people who did not, and could not, fit into societal norms. Harding's novel is inspired by true events that took place in the early 20th century on Malaga Island, part of Phippsburg, Maine, about 20 miles northeast of Portland.

Information is sparse about the earliest inhabitants of the 42-acre island. It is believed that an African man from the West Indies named Benjamin Darling purchased nearby Horse Island in the late 18th century, and that his descendants were later scattered across this island and Malaga. The name is thought to have originated from ...

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