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Eve    by Elissa Elliott order for
by Elissa Elliott
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Bantam, 2009 (2009)
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* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Elissa Elliott takes on challenging subjects for her debut novel - the biblical Eve, famed for her inability to resist the serpent's blandishments; and the question of why a loving God would eject his own creations from Eden. She does it by exploring Eve's relationships, not only with her god Elohim, Lucifer, and the patriarch Adam, but also with her daughters - beautiful weaver Naava, crippled Aya who is the family's mainstay, and small, sweet Dara - and with her sons Cain and Abel.

Eve's rather rambling account is told through her own and her daughters' voices (the latter giving new perspectives on the same events). It moves back and forth in time from the days in the Garden and following Adam and Eve's banishment from it, to the family's later lives. It's not easy for Eve, ever curious, and constantly comparing her memories of an idyllic Garden existence full of love with her later hardscrabble pastoral life - in which she seems to be constantly pregnant or suffering the agonies of difficult childbirths.

Eve opens as a dying mother reunites with her daughter Naava (with whom she seemed always at odds when they lived together) and contemplates her long life, its joys and its tragedies, especially the loss of her beloved son Abel (singer of the Garden song), murdered by his own brother. Eve tells the once lovely (and very selfish) Naava, 'I have lived most of my life as grass beaten down by rain, broken and trampled as you are. It is no way to live; I've come to know that.'

The women's voices continue to tell how Cain's and Abel's final confrontation unfolded - and explain their own roles in seeding it. It all begins when a people who worship the goddess Innana settle nearby, displaying possessions that Cain and Naava covet. Eve sends Dara to care for the babies in their prince's household, in exchange for goods. Cain emulates their ways, but his interactions with them lead to misunderstanding and ultimate tragedy. Naava admires their prince, while continuing to flirt with both Cain and Abel.

Wondering at how differently people can interpret the same words or the same events, Eve muses that words 'fly from your mouth and land in odd poses you do not intend. Perhaps the world is beautiful because it sings without words.' Later she shares something that every mother eventually learns - 'I could no sooner alter my children's behavior than Elohim could alter mine or Adam's.' And she concludes that Abel 'taught me to embrace life. In the here and now. Not in how I want things to be, but how things are.'

In her Afterword, Elissa Elliott explains that her novel was 'inspired by the Genesis account and Mesopotamiam history' and discusses the influence of both sources on her novel. She is to be commended for taking on such a hard subject and for her lyrical writing. Reading groups in particular will find a great deal to explore - both spiritual elements and family relationships - in Eve.

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