Out of the blue a decade ago, Paul Harding won a huge popular following, first, and then the Pulitzer Prize for fiction, for his modern Maine sort of folk tale called Tinkers. His new one is deeper, darker, more ambitious philosophically, more poetic, more beautiful in long stretches—more ironical, too, starting with the title.
This Other Eden takes off from sketchy reality—a real colony of free poor people—Europeans, Africans, indigenous Penobscots, fishermen, farmers, all of them on a tiny island off the coast of Maine about a century ago, until they got swept up by the state and banished to confinement, some of them in the Maine School for the Feeble Minded. In the novel, it’s Paul Harding’s invented characters and imagination that compose a tale of family love encompassing the damages of incest and murder and official state cruelty.
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