Guest Post by Kevin Brown
Paul Harding bases his new novel, This Other Eden, on a historical settlement of mixed-race people on an island off the coast of Maine. He uses that history as a springboard to create deep and rich characters who live there, ranging from Ethan Honey, a boy who can pass for white and has artistic talent that provides him with an opportunity others from the island never receive, to his grandmother Esther, a woman who sees the reality of what will come to their island, but who provides medicinal help to the residents in the meantime.
There are other finely-drawn characters, as well, such as Zachary Hand to God, who lives mostly in a tree while carving scenes from the Bible, and the Larks, who are almost translucent due to the amount of intermarriage in their family.
Harding pulls from historical accounts of what the government ultimately did to the residents of the island, relocating them to the mainland, putting them in institutions, even possibly sterilizing them to keep them from reproducing. Harding’s narrative voice, though, presents some contemporary views of Ethan’s artwork and the government’s actions, showing that those who lived on the island, while different than the mainlanders, had a thriving community with a culture of its own.
Harding reminds readers that what we do to others today will appear quite different a hundred years from now, which should give us pause before we alienate those who don’t match our definitions of normalcy.
This Other Eden by Paul Harding. W.W. Norton, 2023.
Reviewer bio: Kevin Brown has published three books of poetry: Liturgical Calendar: Poems (Wipf and Stock); A Lexicon of Lost Words (winner of the Violet Reed Haas Prize for Poetry, Snake Nation Press); and Exit Lines (Plain View Press). He also has a memoir, Another Way: Finding Faith, Then Finding It Again, and a book of scholarship, They Love to Tell the Stories: Five Contemporary Novelists Take on the Gospels. Twitter @kevinbrownwrite