This Other Eden

Norton. Jan. 2023. 224p. ISBN 9781324036296. $28. F
Off the coast of Maine, Malaga Island supported a racially integrated community until the early 1900s, when the state evicted the islanders. In Pulitzer Prize winner Harding’s (Tinkers) persuasive reimagining of the community, formerly enslaved Black man Benjamin Honey and his white Irish wife, Patience, land on Apple Island in 1793 and form an outpost that by 1911 includes their descendants, two sisters raising three Penobscot orphans, a brood of wayward children whose parents might be brother and sister, and Black Union Army veteran Zachary Hand to God Proverbs, who expertly carves biblical scenes into the tree where he shelters. The island isn’t exactly paradise—there’s cold, hunger, and an abusive father—but the community hangs together until the arrival of eugenics-minded white folks from the mainland. Matthew Diamond, a well-intentioned white preacher/teacher battling his own prejudices to live on the island in summertime, knows that the community’s days are numbered and determines to save gifted young artist Ethan Honey, fair-skinned enough to send to the mainland for tutoring. His decision has sore consequences, and readers must wonder whether it was less heinous than the actions of the real Governor’s Council, which dispatched all the islanders, institutionalized some, and exhumed their dead.
VERDICT Harding’s luscious, perfectly knit narrative delivers a sober understanding of human nature and racial hatred.
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