Monday, January 17, 2011

‘Havah: The Story of Eve’ by Tosca Lee – Book Review

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As anyone who has any knowledge of the Bible knows, the first two human inhabitants of earth were Adam and Eve. There is not much detail about their lives. Author Tosca Lee decided to use her research skills and creativity to expand upon their life story (particularly that of Eve) in her novel, ‘Havah: The Story of Eve.’

Here is the synopsis of this creative and thoughtful novel:

She knew this earth when it was perfect—like her, for a time. Made by God in a manner like no other, she lived in utter peace without flaw in paradise until one fateful decision changed everything. Now, all humanity suffers for her mistake. But what did it feel like then to first sin and be exiled, to see all innocence crumble so vividly, and a strange new world take its place?
Experience the epic dawn of mankind through the eyes and heart of Eve—the woman first known as Havah.

Here is the biography of this amazing author:

Tosca Lee is author of the critically acclaimed and extensively-awarded novels Demon: A Memoir and Havah: The Story of Eve. A sought-after speaker and former Mrs. Nebraska, she continues to work for local charities and as a senior consultant for a global consulting firm. Tosca  holds a degree in English and International Relations from Smith College and also studied at Oxford University. She enjoys travel, cooking, history, and theology, and lives in Lincoln, Nebraska.

In this Author Spotlight, Ms. Lee describes the genesis of this novel:

The Prologue captured my attention immediately. The book is written in the first person by Havah, aka Eve:

This language of Adam’s – the word that meant merely “man” before it was his name – given him by God himself, is now mine. And this is my love song; I will craft these words into the likeness of the man before I, too, return to the earth of Adam’s bosom.
My story has been told in only the barest of terms. It is time you heard it all. It is my testament to the strength of the heart, which has such capacity for joy, such space for sorrow, like a vessel that fills and fills without bursting.
My seasons are nearly as many as a thousand. So now listen, sons, and hear me, daughters, I, Havah, fashioned by God of Adam, say this:
          In the beginning, there was God…
          But for me, there was Adam. (p. 2)

As expected, the story begins in the Garden. Here is Havah’s description of Adam’s appearance and of their first encounter:

He was high-cheeked, this Adam, his lower lip dipping down like a folded leaf that drops sweet water to thirsty mouths. His brow was a hawk, soaring above the high cliffs, his eyes blue lusters beneath the fan of his lashes. But it was his mouth that I always came back to, where my eyes liked best to fasten after taking in the shock of those eyes. Shadow ran along his jaw, like obsidian dust clinging to the curve of it, drawing my eye to the plush flesh of his lips, again, again, again.
He touched my face and traced my mouth. I bit his finger. He gathered my hands and studied them, turning them over and back. He smelled my hair and lingered at my neck, and gazed curiously at the rest of me. When he was finished, he began all over again, tasting my cheeks and the salt of my neck, tracing the instep of my foot with a fingertip. (p. 7)

I love the poetry of that passage!

There was a lot of love and contentment in those early days:

How lovely were the tears of the adam! How beautiful his face because of them, how poignant and masculine at once as they dropped to his cheek and fell upon his lips! He kissed me in mimicry of the first exhale of the One against his mouth. And I heard again his words that first morning and felt again his elation, not from the past, but made new in his heart.
          At last! Flesh of my flesh!
I knew then he was as much mine as I was his, that he loved me with every fiber, having longed for me before he knew me or that I might even exist. As the adam buried his head in my hair, my heart cried out of the extravagance of love and the humility and gratitude for which there was not, nor ever had been, words. (p. 24)

After Havah and Adam indulged in the forbidden fruit, there was a palpable change in their environment:

Suddenly, I realized: the symphony – that blended chorus of all living things that had been with me since the day of my creation – was gone, replaced by a dull drone.
It came then, like a squall, in a white-hot flush of silent fear and dread: We had done the thing we were not to do. And as though in proof, we had done a thing we had done many times before, in a way it was never meant to be.
The divine mark of God, the serpent had called the act of creation. But there was nothing of the One in the thing we had brought to existence.  (p. 56)

The disconnect between Havah and God was heartbreaking:

        Softly now: He will bruise your head, but you will strike his heel.
I did not know what that meant. I knew only that the One was here and that every fiber within me cried out for reconciliation – with the One, with the Valley and all that dwelt with it… with the adam.
I need you!
I meant to say I would never long for any other pleasure if I might return to my vineyard and orchard and bower. That I would question nothing, ask nothing, seek nothing if only I could have it all back. That I now knew the thing I had done.
But I couldn’t. Because here was the worst of it: even now, the presence of the One, he seemed somehow impossibly far away from me as he had never been before. Even as he said so gently, I am.
I cried out in a language without words for the One to retrieve, to restore me. But it was too late; I was like the child that reaches up with broken arms. (p. 68)

The contrast between the lives before and after the Fall was striking – and so sad:

The days of the valley seemed like another life. Not forgotten – I could conjure in dreams the smell of apricots and hyssop, the taste of licorice, and even the crispness of the waters of the abyss drunk straight from the narrow falls and streams. But it seemed harder now in waking hours: there was ever before us the work of gathering, retting, cooking, tool-making, weaving, grazing, and milking. Sweat ran down the neck and back of Adam as he cleared a small area for our garden. Here we would plant vegetables, cresses, herbs, garlic, chickpeas, lentils, and flax. He cleared another for an orchard and a vineyard. (p. 123) 

The scene of the first child born, Kayin (known in the Bible as Cain), is fascinating:

It is said that he rent me in two. That he split me apart with a violent birth. That I howled in agony for days, knowing what would come from him. That is not true. I have seen few women in my life deliver so smoothly a firstborn child – without even the songs or sympathy groans of other women to soothe them. Women now have all the comforts of mother and sister in their bed. Of women learned in herbals to ease them.
I had none of these, but relied on the midwifery of Adam, whose gentle hands had delivered countless animals.
The truth is this: In the last moments before birth, I felt a burst of euphoria – like that which comes from running long distances, that dulls pain and makes us think we have grown wings. In the last moment, I lifted my head. I bore him in pain, yes. But I bore him in strength as well, knowing I took part in the mystery of this creation. The plants and the animals, created by God, created in turn after their own kind, in a reflection of the character of the One.
And now, so too, did I.
“It is a male!” There was awe in Adam’s gaze. I was in awe of myself as well.
“I have gotten a man,” I repeated softly, as we did not then have a word for boy. (p. 130)

Despite these joyful moments, there were moments when vitriol spewed from the mouths of the people on earth – an occurrence that continues to this day…:

“There, Isha,” he said, into my hair. But even as he said it I heard the worry in his voice. “All will be well.”
“How can you know?” I demanded.
He hesitated and then said, “I can’t.”
“Then how can you say ‘all will be well’?”
“I can’t. But the One knows all, and surely all must be well in the end.”
“Must it?” I pulled away with a brittle little laugh. “We are living in the wild! The animals would harm us if they could, as they harm one another. The river cares not where we plant our field, nor does the sky; it might strike lightning to the entire field at whim. There is no certainty! God has promised us what – what? That my seed with strike the serpent. Fine then! Where is he?”
I was in shock at the things coming from my mouth, at the vehemence of them, at every dark thought to have sprung out of the fearful soil of my heart. (pp. 165-166)

After Kayin had killed his brother, Hevel (known in the Bible as Abel), another son of Havah and Adam had some interesting questions for his mother:

“Why did the One allow Kayin to kill him?” Asa asked me once, when we told him the truth of his brother’s death and his other brother’s exile.
I did not know what to say to that. I had never entertained the idea of the One interfering in our actions. Always we had done what we would, always we had chosen for ourselves.
“Because, my love, if I make it so that you can only do one thing, then do I even know that you are obedient because you choose to be?” How should I explain what it has taken me a lifetime to understand: that there is no morality without choice?
“No, you might never know. But was there a time before the first bad thing was done?”
“All people do wrong. But we are at our most noble when we do right. Now, here comes your father. Go fetch some water and help him wash his feet.” (p. 239)

It was interesting to see how Ms. Lee portrayed the proliferation of the human species, and how the earth developed in so many different areas (i.e., agriculture, pottery, jewelry, etc…):

Generations passed. Young fingers that were once meddling, curious, and questing, chastised and slapped for their mischief, became the hands upon the plow and the loom and the grind-stone, holding back new and younger hands from trouble. Eventually, those hands became the hands that rested on knees and upon chests in repose near the fire, corded and sun-speckled and traced with veins.
I became increasingly enamored of art, and it began to spring up with great abundance. There had been little luxury for it in the beginning, when Adam had carved his pendants and we had made our marks in the clay and upon the dirt, when Lila had woven her patterns into the textiles, and Renana had recited her poetry and chants and Ashira her songs. But now there came a great swell of creativity in music, and great innovation in its instruments: drums of raw hide, lyres, and flutes and rattles. Every time traders came in with their musicians, especially from the northern city of Hanokh, the music was more brilliant than before, bringing to mind more vivid images of the land from which it came, and of the sky and even the insects. (pp. 265-266)

In the Author’s Notes, Ms. Lee had a list of questions that she wanted to answer in this book; among them are:

·         Where was Eden?
·         Was Adam tempted to eat the fruit before Eve’s creation?
·         So where was Adam when Eve ate it anyway?
·         When they fled, did they ever look back or attempt to return?
·         Why did God not favor Cain’s sacrifice?
·         Were Adam and Eve faithful to one another? (pp. 315-316)

All are very interesting questions!

I was fascinated and amazed by this book! I have never thought about Adam and Eve to the extent that Ms. Lee does in this novel. She writes in a poetic and highly visual manner. I was at once amazed at her depiction of the Garden of Eden as I was despondent along with Adam and Eve after they were cast out and were no longer in contact with their Creator. This is the first novel I have read from Ms. Lee’s computer; it will most certainly not be the last!

You can order this book here.

The Advanced Reader Edition of this novel was provided by B&H Fiction for review purposes. Please note that the page number notated here may not exactly match those of the final printed product, which is available now.

1 comment:

Robert Hagedorn said...

The garden of Eden can be depicted in different ways without use of a computer. For one depiction do a search: The First Scandal Adam and Eve.

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