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Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2011-06-13
- Reviewer: Staff
Wilensky-Lanford, whose essays have appeared in Salon, Killing the Buddha, and The Exquisite Corpse, has carved her literary niche as a "private investigator with an open mind," exploring myth and the human social psyche. In her first book, she confronts a foundational Western myth, the Garden of Eden, and humanity's constant search to return there. Part adventure story, part historical narrative, Wilensky-Lanford spins the history of explorers who searched for the Garden's precise earthly coordinates. With adept, well-researched prose, she traces how, from four verses in Genesis naming four rivers flowing from the Garden, scientists and pseudo-scientists, preachers and theologians, have claimed "scientific proof" of Paradise's location—in Iraq, Sri Lanka, the Seychelles, Florida, Ohio, the North Pole, and elsewhere. Though quick-witted and quirky, Wilensky-Lanford isn't satisfied with asking only "where," she also deftly explores "why?" After traveling the globe on her Paradise quest, she arrives at the stump of "Adam's Tree" in a contested zone near Basra, Iraq, meditating not so much on the Garden, but on humanity's first steps from it. (Aug.)
Where in the world is the Garden of Eden?
Adam and Eve most definitely lived in Ohio. Or China. Or the North Pole, or Mesopotamia.
Actually, the real location of the Garden of Eden (if indeed there was a Garden of Eden) is something of a mystery. In the thought-provoking Paradise Lust, author Brook Wilensky-Lanford explores why this Biblical paradise still fascinates so many. It may be an unanswerable question, relating to some intangible human need to understand our origin. She calls a well-known archaeologist to ask just why people care so much.
“You tell me,” he replies. “You’re the one calling from halfway around the world.”
So Wilensky-Lanford goes directly to the source, so to speak: Genesis, which describes Eden as being situated between four rivers (Pishon, Gihon, Tigris and Euphrates). “The Bible sounds positively nonchalant: if you can pinpoint the four rivers, you can locate paradise,” Wilensky-Lanford writes. “In fact, many Eden seekers claimed that the unusually matter-of-fact description was the reason they decided to look for Eden to begin with—it just sounded like a real place.” Real enough to draw the attention of everyone from the first president of Boston University—William Fairfield Warren, a Methodist minister who firmly believed Eden was in the North Pole—to Elvy Callaway, a Baptist Floridian who opened the Garden of Eden Park right there near Pensacola in 1956. Paradise Lust recounts their journeys and those of others with buoyant humor and fascinating historical tidbits.
This is the first book for Wilensky-Lanford, who has written for Salon.com and other publications. If you want dramatic pronouncements about the latitude and longitude of the Garden of Eden, you’ll have to look elsewhere. As Wilensky-Lanford notes, “No matter how unassailable a theory of Eden seems, it will be assailed.” But if you’re looking for a sly and entertaining account of the ongoing search for paradise, Paradise Lust is it.