Review of This Other Eden by Paul Harding
Harding bases his slim historical fiction novel This Other Eden on a real-life, racially integrated island off the coast of Maine, tipping his eccentric characters farther and farther toward tragedy as mainland men motivated by greed aim to destroy the community.
Back in 1792, a formerly enslaved man Benjamin Honey and his Irish wife found a safe haven on an island off the coast of Maine.
A century later, the Honeys' descendants and their diverse neighbors--some have escaped from trouble, while others are seeking peace and a simple life--make up a hardscrabble community that must scratch and claw to subsist. Yet they remain on their island, safe from the judgment and danger of the mainland.
When a schoolteacher-turned-missionary arrives to educate the island's children, he draws the attention of eugenics-focused authorities, who set out to forcibly evacuate the island.
The title of Harding's book comes from Shakespeare's Richard II:
This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars, This other Eden, demi-paradise, This fortress built by Nature for herself
The secluded community in the book is like a large family, dependent on only each other, and they are focused on nature and on subsisting independently. The story is inspired by the real-life, formerly integrated Malaga Island off the coast of Maine (in the book it is called Apple Island).
One fair-skinned boy is sent to the mainland in an effort to better his circumstances and so that he may take art classes, with his teacher's unspoken hope that he will pass for white, but his past--about which he is guileless--threatens to destroy his future due to others' rash assessments. Harding meanwhile offers a quickly unraveling series of events on the island as government officials impose destructive mainland judgments and values on the island's inhabitants.
The story tips its island characters farther and farther toward tragedy, then plunges headfirst into the various heartbreaking consequences of mainland strangers' decisions, cold cruelties, and greedy motivations, culminating in the forceful removal of the peaceful Apple Island inhabitants.
Harding's language is beautiful as it evokes the harsh landscape and the characters' connection to the weather, the terrain, and the natural world.
Do you have any Bossy thoughts about this book?
I received an audiobook version of this book courtesy of Libro.fm (Libro.fm supports local bookstores!) and Recorded Books, Inc. The book is wonderfully narrated by Edoardo Ballerini.
Paul Harding is also the author of Tinkers.