This Other Eden by Paul Harding is a book that took me off guard in surprising ways and is not one I will soon forget.

Harding’s writing style is so unique and compelling. It’s easy to see how he is a Pulitzer Prize winner. Many times while reading this novel, I forgot I was reading this novel because I was transported into its literary world. And I’m ashamed to say that I haven’t read any of his prior works. But I know that I will now.

This Other Eden is inspired by a true story– an important story that needed to be told. And I encourage readers to give it a chance for that reason alone. Harding also does a great job of capturing the more visceral complexities of the residents of Apple Island, and its true encroachers (the mainlanders). Each character in the novel is so real and raw, making it impossible not to get to know them intimately, especially when it’s unsettling and more realistic.

Overall, I appreciate how the novel drives readers to critically think about and consider stories from the Bible and what they mean, from a historical and humanistic perspective. Especially since it is a missionary who ends up ending life on the island as the long-time residents knew it, for the worse. And while there are many mentions and allusions to the story of Noah’s Ark, the Bible story that permeates the novel and resonates the most (especially when considering the title of the novel) is the story of Adam and Eve. And a couple of questions I will always have now, after reading this novel, is: What does it really mean if we take the story of Adam and Eve as “gospel,” and believe we are all descended from the same man and woman? Are we not all to be considered family and treat one another as such? If so, what exactly does that mean? And if we don’t, isn’t that hypocritical, as well as the impetus for our demise?

While this novel has a lot of literary merit and should be read widely, there were points at the beginning of the novel in which certain literary techniques hindered its plot development (especially with the use– or lack thereof– of certain punctuation), making it more arduous to follow than was necessary. For this reason, I encourage readers to read well past page 50 before making any judgments. Read the book to its end. It’s worth it.

My Rating: #4 out of 5 Stars

For more information about this novel, see the summary of This Other Eden on Goodreads.

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