Book Review: ‘This Other Eden’ by Paul Harding (Shortlisted for The Booker Prize 2023)

A Moving and Poetic Novel of History and Humanity

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Book Title: This Other Eden
Author: Paul Harding
Publisher: Hutchinson Heinemann
Number of Pages: 224
ISBN: 978-1529152548
Date Published: Feb. 9, 2023
Price: INR 551

This Other Eden by Paul Harding Book Cover

Book Review

This Other Eden” by Paul Harding is a poignant and thought-provoking novel that delves into the untold history of a racially integrated community on Apple Island, inspired by the actual events of Malaga Island off the coast of Maine. As the second novel from the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of “Tinkers,” Harding takes readers on a journey through time, following the lives of the island’s inhabitants from the late 18th century to the early 20th century.

The story revolves around the descendants of Benjamin Honey, a formerly enslaved person who escaped from Jamaica with his Irish wife, Patience, to make a new life on the island. They form a close-knit and self-reliant community with other families of diverse backgrounds. However, the novel takes a stark turn as it explores the ominous emergence of eugenics in the early 20th century, drawing a connection to the International Eugenics Congress held in London in 1912.

One of the remarkable aspects of “This Other Eden” is its narrative structure. The novel is divided into smaller chapters, each adopting a different style and perspective. From first-person to third-person, present tense to past tense, and even the use of various literary devices, Harding skillfully weaves a rich and diverse narrative voice that keeps readers engaged and invested in the characters’ lives.

The novel’s themes of identity, belonging, memory, and survival resonate strongly throughout the story. The islanders face a myriad of challenges, from racism and poverty to the looming threat of eugenics. Additionally, they must grapple with their traumas and secrets, making their journey all the more relatable and heartrending.

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Harding’s prose is both lyrical and powerful, evoking vivid imagery and a deep well of emotions. He captures the beauty, dignity, and complexity of the island and its inhabitants, steering clear of stereotypes and simplistic judgments. “This Other Eden” is not just a novel; it’s a testament to the indomitable human spirit, a reminder of history’s forgotten, dark chapters, and a compelling exploration of resilience and diversity. This book is a must-read that will touch both your heart and mind, leaving a lasting impression on your literary journey.

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