infinity-in-the-palm-cover

BY SEAN CLARK

Author: Gioconda Belli, translated from the Spanish by Margaret Sayers Peden

Harper Collins, 2009

Best ebook deal: Harper Collins

I’ve never been one to consume all that much poetry. I really enjoy good poetry, but it’s just something I don’t read all that often. Because of this, I tend to have reservations about novels written by poets, as I feel they can be a little too off balance with evocation and tropes outweighing narrative rules. This is not to say these books are all bad, just that I’m not the ideal reader. Spanish poet Gioconda Belli’s novel, however, does a wonderful job of transforming the (biblical and archetypical) story of Adam and Eve into an excellent novel, by utilizing her linguistic and thematic skills as a poet within a framework of traditional narrative. This book is short and sweet, and will be loved by poets and feminists and those interested in the Bible as literature especially. However it is an accessible and enjoyable book, devoid of any sort of heavy-handedness or didacticism, and is certainly worth a read by readers outside that group.

I really like books that do re-imaginings of stories I am familiar with. Aside from amalgamating Creationism and Darwinism (satisfactorily), Belli doesn’t offer many radical changes to the Genesis story. In the beginning she focuses on the physical. Right of the bat, the descriptions are lush and encompassing. They are also eloquent and poetically lyrical:

Although the tree seemed to paralyze him, she could barely contain her desire to touch its broad and robust, its soft and gleaming, trunk. Beauty flooded her eyes everywhere, and the man had proudly shown her a myriad of colors and birds and majestic beasts, but to her nothing seemed more beautiful than the tree. Its leaves filled her imagination. They were lustrous, their backs painted a luminous green that contrasted with the underside, which was purple with thick, bright, salient veins. Arrayed on the many brances, extending in every direction, the leaves swallowed the light then exhaled it, distributing radiance all about them.

Aside from the great descriptive language, Belli’s other strength is her humanizing of the characters. Cleverly, the majority of this occurs after the couple’s expulsion from Eden. While the narrative aligns itself with Eve, it retains enough omniscience to dip into Adam, their children, and even the dog, Cain–for whom, according to Belli, the murderous brother was named–without feeling intrusive or forced. In doing this, the book does a wonderful job of marrying modern existential questions with similar biblical questions asked in the source text. Belli’s authorship really shines here, and her ability to stay true to the roles and attitudes presented in Genesis while modernizing the themes is both impressive and satisfying to read.

All in all, this is a great book that I’d recommend to all literary minded readers, even those outside the aforementioned ideal audience. It would also make a wonderful Mothers’ Day gift–it is written well enough to satisfy bookish mothers, and accessible enough that can easily be enjoyed by beach-readers as well.

Other books: Paradise Lost (Milton),  The Third Body (Cixous), A Night at the Movies, or, You Must Remember This (Coover), The Lost Daughter (Ferrante), The Beggar Maid, Stories of Flo and Rose (Munro)

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