THE GARDEN is a retelling of the events in the Garden of Eden from Eve's point of view. Elsie V. Aidinoff's Eden will be recognizable to those who have read it in Genesis or heard the story retold elsewhere, but she adds some completely original twists. Adam and Eve are raised separately: Adam by a controlling, jealous and angry God who insists on total obedience, and Eve by the wise and gentle Serpent, who encourages her to ask questions and challenges her to think for herself.
It is no surprise that such drastically different characters come into conflict. Eve cannot understand a god who refuses to accept her questioning. Adam does not know how to disobey God who, in Aidinoff's Eden, is not always looking after the best interests of his creations. A quarter of the way into the book, this conflict leads to rape. The rest of the story deals with Eve's recovery from the violation, and how she comes to make her decision to eat from the Tree of Knowledge, a choice that Aidinoff equates with freeing humans from the hands of an angry god.
Aidinoff's ideas are compelling and poetic, but even in the hands of a clearly gifted writer there are unavoidable conflicts in the narrative. One of the largest narrative problems is the rape itself and the necessity for Eve to forgive her attacker who, after all, is the only man in all of creation.
Still, this book explores a number of interesting ideas and is an excellent place to begin asking many of the difficult questions that are a part of human existence: the problem of evil, science vs. mythology, the hierarchy of living beings and, ultimately, freewill. It is beautifully and lovingly written. The characters of Eve and the Serpent are especially well-realized. The Serpent is not equated with Evil or Satan, but with Justice and Wisdom. When Eve asks him who he is, the Serpent replies, "My role on this earth: to counterbalance the excesses of a jealous god."
One of the most interesting questions that THE GARDEN asks is how much Adam and Eve knew before they ate from the Tree of Knowledge. In this story, Eve has learned a great deal about the nature of good vs. evil, not to mention suffering and the soul, before she makes her choice. As part of her healing process, Eve and the Serpent travel outside the garden to see the rest of the world. Even before she has eaten from the Tree of Knowledge, Eve experiences the desert, the mountains, the ocean and the volcano, and learns the skills she will need to survive outside the garden.
Ultimately, Aidinoff's novel makes a powerful case for Eve's choice and for the idea that the introduction of knowledge, and the death that comes with it, is necessary for human development. "If there were no death," the Serpent tells Eve, "most beings would be very old. The ancient would rule, for they would have power. And they would believe they know best … The Earth would be quickly overrun. You could not have a succession of beings progressing through life, each generation learning and growing and giving in its own way, rediscovering beauty, taking joy in the world around them. Death makes way for the young."
This is a powerful message for readers, some of whom will be experiencing these questions for the first time. THE GARDEN is an excellent place to begin their journey, and would also be a good choice for an intergenerational book club. There is likely to be controversy about Aidinoff's version of the Judeo-Christian creation myth, but this also makes for good discussion and reading.
Reviewed by Sarah A. Wood on April 1, 2004
- Publication Date: April 1, 2004
- Genres: Fiction
- Hardcover: 416 pages
- Publisher: HarperTeen
- ISBN-10: 0060556056
- ISBN-13: 9780060556051