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This Other Eden

Paul Harding


In 1911, only a few people live on Apple Island off the coast of the United States. These families, ‘in whose veins ran blood from every continent but Antarctica’, have been living there for over a century and try to get by as best they can. They include Esther Honey, who is haunted by the memory of her father, and her grandson Ethan, who is so fair-skinned he can ‘pass for white’ and so may be able to make a life for himself on the mainland. But will he succeed? Other islanders are Zachary Hand to God Proverbs who lives by himself, mostly in a hollow tree in which he carves Bible scenes, and Theophilus and Candace Lark, who may well be brother and sister and have children who are so sensitive to light that they mainly move about during the dark. Every summer, Matthew Diamond, a retired schoolteacher, crosses the channel to teach the children and to preach. However, Esther Honey doesn’t trust white mainlanders. And she turns out to be right. The results of an official inspection of Apple Island have life-changing consequences for all its residents.

Harding, inspired by historical facts, describes life in this closely knit community in long, beautiful poetic sentences, drawing you into the story and making you feel as if you’re on the island and can almost feel the cold, such as when he explains how ‘snow pours from the sky and smacks the windows like giant hands and kicks the door like a giant heel.


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