A freelance journalist debuts with a spirited chase through history, geography and religion as she chronicles the myriad and sometimes mad attempts to locate the Garden of Eden.
Wilensky-Lanford has certainly done her homework for this summary and analysis of the search for the “actual” Eden. Her journey began with a family story about a great-uncle who had toyed with locating Eden. As she began reading about the subject, she discovered its vast dimensions. After sketching the many earlier searches, she focuses on those within the last century, beginning with Boston University president William Fairfield Warren, who, in the late 19th century, placed Eden at the North Pole. Next: Friedrich Delitzsch, a German professor of Assyriology, argued for present-day Iraq and suggested that two of the four rivers mentioned in Genesis were actually canals. In 1901, the Rev. Edmund Landon West was convinced Eden had once lain in the area of Ohio’s Serpent Mound. A Chinese businessman proposed a China site in 1914; in 1919 William Willcocks saw the possibility of two Edens; and so on. Besides her chapters on the various theories of Eden’s location, Wilensky-Lanford offers sections on the recent history of the debate between science and religion, the explorations of Thor Heyerdahl, Mormonism, the use of satellite imagery to help pinpoint locations and the enduring meaning of “Eden.” She ends back in Iraq, in Qurna, site of the remains of the so-called “Tree of Knowledge.” Although the author occasionally cracks wise—she jokes about a gopher and Noah’s Ark—she generally treats the seekers with respect, sometimes more than they deserve.
A lively journey, though getting back to the Garden turns out to be even more complicated than Joni Mitchell’s “Woodstock” lyrics imagined.