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THIS OTHER EDEN by Paul Harding Kirkus Star


by Paul Harding

Pub Date: Jan. 24th, 2023
ISBN: 978-1-324-03629-6
Publisher: Liveright/Norton

Harding’s third novel revisits an appalling moment in Maine history.

Early in the 20th century, the racially diverse residents of a small island community in Maine were evicted and displaced. The local authorities who carried out this task on Malaga Island cited science as one of their motivations—but what they called science is now obvious as eugenics, and these nominally lawful actions are now seen for what they truly were: a crime. Harding’s novel draws from this history, and its epigraph from the Maine Coast Heritage Trust gives the broad outline of what the reader can expect. But Harding is after something bigger here, using this fictionalized version of history both to comment on the interconnectedness of various coastal communities and to explore the ephemeral qualities that can be lost when regarding historical events from decades away. Harding focuses on different characters over the course of the novel, including a young man named Ethan Honey, the descendant of a former slave, whose artistic skills offer the promise of a better future; Esther Honey, Ethan’s mother, who grapples with her own haunted family history and possesses a stunning knowledge of all things Shakespearean; and the well-intentioned retired White schoolteacher Matthew Diamond, who begins the novel “oblivious to the greater, probably utter, catastrophe” his presence is going to spark but finds unexpected moral reserves. As these characters find themselves rethinking their places in the world, Harding summons up lyrical sheets of prose, including one of the most evocative descriptions of a lobster dinner you’re likely to encounter. He has an eye for a striking image, as when Ethan is painting: “Put the haystacks in the sky, bristling and sharp, rasping across the lowering blue.” It’s a brief book that carries the weight of history.

A moving account of community and displacement.