This Other EdenApple Island, “hardly three hundred feet across a channel from the mainland” on the coast of Maine, is a return to his usual stomping grounds by Paul Harding, the same turf mined for Pulitzer Prize winner Tinkers and Enon (you can read the review from Judy Krueger here). It is a departure, however from the social milieu of his previous subjects, the Crosbys. Whereas the Crosbys descended from European settlers, the characters of his newest novel This Other Eden, the inhabitants of Apple Island are multi-racial, far-flung progeny from every continent but Antarctica. The first settlers, Benjamin and Patience Honey, arrived in 1793, Benjamin having escaped one way or another from servitude with a dream of an apple orchard from his childhood memories of his mother, and Patience, a Galway girl. Generations later, the novel concentrates on the residents of Apple Island, circa 1911. Ester Honey, the matriarch of the Honey family, is the great-granddaughter of the original founders, and de facto leader of the clan and the other families on the island, all of mixed or indeterminate race. The island and its residents teeter on the edge of survival. The island itself, battered by storms and floods, is a mere streak on the landscape. Early in the first chapter, Harding tells, through the remembrance of Esther, the harrowing, but maybe exaggerated, story of the residents’ near eradication in the Great Hurricane of 1815. It is breathtaking and magical, and worth the price of admission. The families of Apple Island live a simple life of subsistence. A little money comes in from carpentry work, or laundering townsfolks clothes, but they are largely self-sufficient. They have no meaningful connection with the mainland aside from Matthew Diamond. Matthew Diamond is minister and schoolmaster who has received a grant to open a schoolhouse, such as it is, and educate the children of the island during each summer. Filled with Christian intentions—take that as you will—Diamond comes to know the Apple Islanders. He recognizes that Esther is more that the ignorant savage he initially assumed. He sees that some of the children are intellectually gifted: one child quickly outpaces him in mathematics; another quickly learns Latin; a third develops a talent for drawing. Diamond is conflicted by a racist disgust in the adults of the island, while wishing to help the children. Enter the eugenicists and the local self-righteous townspeople. Diamond’s work and letters to colleagues about the islanders bring the island to the attention of “authorities” and churches. Unannounced, a contingent of scientists (such as the are) and government agents, and a photographer visit the island with questionnaires to prove their foregone conclusions and calipers to measure their skulls and nostrils and whatever else. A campaign is begun ot have the islanders removed from the island, institutionalized, if possible. Diamond sees there is little he can do for most of the islanders, as the campaign rolls beyond his capacity to affect it, but he recognizes an opportunity for Ethan Honey, with his obvious drawing talent, and his ability to pass in white society, to find support and education on the mainland—an opportunity of great risk and reward. I won’t go any further. I haven’t really spoiled anything, as this all happens quite early in the novel, and it’s worth you finding out for yourselves. Clearly inspired the story of Malaga Island in Maine, Harding moves back and forth through time, showing the ramifications of Diamond’s actions for the Apple Islanders.