This Other Eden: A Novel (Paperback)
Shortlisted for the 2023 Booker Prize
Finalist for the 2023 National Book Award for Fiction
One of Time's 100 Must-Read Books of 2023
“A testament of love.” —Danez Smith, New York Times Book Review
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.
— Claire Messud - Harpers Magazine
[This Other Eden] is a harrowing tale of paradise lost and a lyrical examination of people in isolation just trying to get by…[It] is a novel that is both devastating and meditative, a combination that is characteristic of [Paul] Harding’s work.
— MJ Franklin - New York Times
Stunning…You could imagine lots of ways a historical novel about this horror might be written, but none of them would give you a sense of the strange spell of This Other Eden—its dynamism, bravado and melancholy. Harding’s style has been called ‘Faulknerian’ and maybe that’s apt, given his penchant for sometimes paragraph-long sentences that collapse past and present…[An] intense wonder of a historical novel.
— Maureen Corrigan - NPR
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.
— Major Jackson, author of The Absurd Man
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...[S]ure to be a standout of 2023.
— Bethanne Patrick - Los Angeles Times
This Other Eden is a story of good intentions, bad faith, worse science, but also a tribute to community and human dignity and the possibility of another world. In both, it has much to say to our times.
— Rachel Seiffert - Guardian (UK)
Beautiful, brooding…Harding paints a rich, unvarnished portrait of Apple Island and its residents…Long, cascading sentences sometimes loop back on themselves to add salient details; others rush forward to encapsulate as much complexity as they can…Harding’s finely wrought prose shows us a community that refuses to see itself through the judgmental eyes of others, a society composed of people who give their neighbors the same latitude to go their own way that they claim for themselves. It closes on a note of determined hope, with an emblem of continuity and endurance held high above the waters that separate Apple Island from the censorious mainland.
— Wendy Smith - Washington Post
With gorgeous, often antique prose, Harding takes us into the prelapsarian world of the islanders…Harding has a gift for using language with intense precision that evokes his characters’ points of view.
— Carolyn Kellogg - Boston Globe
Frequent lyrical passages, which are as epic, forceful and sweeping as the floods the book depicts and recalls…Just as wonderful are the book’s frequent small touches.
— Clifford Thompson - Times Literary Supplement (UK)
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.
— Elizabeth McCracken, author of The Souvenir Museum
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 truly be saved. A luminous, thought-provoking novel.
— Esi Edugyan, author of Washington Black
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.
— Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
Pulitzer winner Harding (Tinkers) suffuses deep feeling into this understated yet wrenching story…It’s a remarkable achievement.
— Publishers Weekly (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…[T]his gorgeously limned portrait about family bonds, the loss of innocence, the insidious effects of racism, and the innate worthiness of individual lives will resonate long afterward.
— Booklist (starred review)