‘This Other Eden’ by Paul Harding – The Apple Islanders


‘This Other Eden’ by Paul Harding   (2023) – 221 pages


The plot of ‘The Other Eden’, strikingly original as it is, is based on a real incident in the history of the US state of Maine.

Malaga Island … was home to a mixed-race fishing community from the mid-1800s to 1912, when the state of Maine evicted 47 residents from their homes and exhumed and relocated their buried dead. Eight islanders were committed to the Maine School for the Feeble-Minded…

[In 2020], the Maine legislature passed a resolution expressing its “profound regret”.”

In ‘The Other Eden’, we have former slave Benjamin Honey arriving and settling on Apple Island off the coast of Maine with his Irish wife Patience in 1793. By 120 years later, when most of the novel takes place, there are about three dozen people living on the island in primitive conditions. The government of Maine wants to kick them off the island.

A reporter recently accompanied a Governor’s Council to notorious Apple Island, to investigate the little rock’s queer brood of paupers and the squalor in which they live.”

The author Paul Harding does not make the mistake of portraying these residents of the island as being too good to be true. Some of the residents are indeed retarded and have poor vision due to inbreeding. None of them has any formal education, but one woman, Esther, can quote long passages from Shakespeare and the Bible. One teenage boy, Ethan, has an extraordinary talent for drawing. They all live in makeshift houses that somehow protect them from the severe winters. They are humans, beset by all kinds of problems, some of their own making.

The Actual Malaga Islanders who were Evicted in 1912

Why is the government so anxious to evict them from their island? Many of the islanders have dark features, so white racism enters into it. Also the study of eugenics was becoming popular in United States colleges at that time. The Nazis in Germany were believers in eugenics, and we all know how that turned out.

A minister/teacher, Matthew Diamond, comes to the island and sets up classes for the young islanders. Diamond’s faith tells him “all men are brothers, all women his sisters”, but he still feels a “visceral, involuntary repulsion in the presence of a living Negro”. Diamond is well-meaning in his concern for the inhabitants of Apple Island, even though they don’t pay as much heed to his school instruction and sermons as he would like. Meanwhile Diamond’s interest in the island has alerted others on the Maine mainland whose intentions are not so good. Esther Honey, one of the islanders, thought,

Terrible how terribly good intentions turn out every time.”

Diamond takes a special interest in the aspiring young artist Ethan, especially since Ethan could pass for white on the mainland.

Malaga Island today

This is a well-written, imaginative fiction. By the time a reader finishes this novel, he or she will surely believe that Apple Island at that time was ‘The Other Eden’, and that the islanders who were evicted were God’s people.


Grade :   A+



7 responses to this post.

  1. Coincidentally I just came across a reference to a home for the feeble-minded.

    Liked by 1 person


  2. Hi Tony! Enjoyed the review. I haven’t paid much attention as of yet to Paul Harding (I know Tinkers, his debut novel, won a major award). Perhaps it’s time to remedy this neglect on my part? By coincidence, I read the Guardian’s very favorable review just a day or so ago . . .

    Liked by 1 person


    • Hi Janakay,
      ‘The Other Eden’ is an interesting story – an island of people living in primitive conditions which is an embarrassment to the authorities – and the author Paul Harding does a fine job of telling the story. I believe you will enjoy it if you read it.
      I read Tinkers, but don’t remember it at all. I see from my review back in 2010 that I did not like it much.

      Liked by 1 person


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