The pace of Harding’s storytelling is stately, his descriptions, even of small events, gorgeous ... These are sentences to be savored, and they constitute the novel’s chief narrative pull. Dramatic action, long bruited about, comes late, though forcefully ... This Other Eden is beautiful and agonizing—rather like the real place that inspired it.
All are rendered humble, human, particular and luminous in Harding’s long, poetic sentences ... started to tense, weary of wading deeper into this story that I knew must end in violence and displacement for its poor, Black cast ... Yet the passages that put me on guard are the same ones that disarmed me. Harding’s prose is mesmerizing ... Whatever apprehensions I had were outweighed by Harding’s powerful music ... Despite Harding’s lush prose, there is a curiosity to these characters, to this world: Until their foreshadowed displacement, it seems the residents of Apple Island move about with little to no awareness of the racial politics of their day ... This novel could be more focused on the turbulence of their eugenics-fueled expulsion, but instead we’re offered moments of family, connection and resilience, which only make the instances of violence and extrication more unsettling and explosive. With the fall of this Eden looming in the wings of the novel, what a careful and caring choice to spend so much time in the grandeur of the lives of the banished ... Not without complication, not without terror, This Other Eden is ultimately a testament of love: love of kin, love of nature, love of art, love of self, love of home. Harding has written a novel out of poetry and sunlight, violent history and tender remembering. The humans he has created are, thankfully, not flattened into props and gimmicks, which sometimes happens when writers work across time and difference; instead they pulse with aliveness, dreamlike but tangible, so real it could make you weep.
Stunning ... You could imagine lots of ways a historical novel about this horror might be written, but none of them would give you a sense of the strange spell of This Other Eden—its dynamism, bravado and melancholy. Harding's style has been called 'Faulknerian' and maybe that's apt, given his penchant for sometimes paragraph-long sentences that collapse past and present ... [An] intense wonder of a historical novel.
Beautiful, brooding ... Harding paints a rich, unvarnished portrait of Apple Island and its residents ... Long, cascading sentences sometimes loop back on themselves to add salient details; others rush forward to encapsulate as much complexity as they can ... Harding’s finely wrought prose shows us a community that refuses to see itself through the judgmental eyes of others, a society composed of people who give their neighbors the same latitude to go their own way that they claim for themselves. It closes on a note of determined hope, with an emblem of continuity and endurance held high above the waters that separate Apple Island from the censorious mainland.
With gorgeous, often antique prose, Harding takes us into the prelapsarian world of the islanders ... Harding has a gift for using language with intense precision that evokes his characters’ points of view.
Some of the limitations of his approach are becoming obvious ... This Other Eden is a short novel, but it’s encumbered with all the symbolic import Harding strives to apply to it. At times, the book’s language is charming in its elegance. Too often, though, it’s fussed over, as if every syllable were held up with a jeweler’s loupe and assessed for shine and heft. Overworked run-on sentences scamper across the pages ... This is all unfortunate, because it clouds the story’s inherent dramas: patricide, assault, forced eviction, flooding, racism, pseudoscience ... The hyperprecisionist’s dilemma has always been sorting out how to blaze a new path linguistically within the confines of the domestic novel. Moving forward demands more than a pastiche of recycled rhetoric and ancient symbolism.
A superb achievement ... Harding combines an engrossing plot with deft characterizations and alluring language deeply attuned to nature’s artistry. The biblical parallels, which naturally align with the characters’ circumstances, add depth, and enhance the universality of the themes. Readers must gingerly parse some winding, near-paragraph-long sentences, but this gorgeously limned portrait about family bonds, the loss of innocence, the insidious effects of racism, and the innate worthiness of individual lives will resonate long afterward.
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 ... It’s a brief book that carries the weight of history ... A moving account of community and displacement.