Silence in Eden

The Language of Paradise: A Novel, by Barbara Klein Moss, (W. W. Norton & Company), 416 pages, release date 6 April, 2015

The Language of Paradise is a slow read. I don’t mean that in a bad way. It’s slow because it lingers inside its characters, gives them room to reason and imagine.

Sophie, daughter of a Harvard divinity professor, marries Gideon, one of her father’s students. Gideon is fascinated with the question of what the first human language—the language of paradise—might have been. At first this seems like a harmless eccentricity. But when Gideon meets Leander, who shares his obsession, things quickly spin out of control. The two of them decide that the baby Sophie is carrying will be raised in silence. With no human language spoken to him, they assume the child will go back to humanity’s origins and speak in the original tongue. Sophie’s marriage become a strange sort of triad, with Leander in control.

We spend time with both Sophie and Gideon before this search for the language of paradise becomes an obsession. Sophie is a bit of a wild spirit, dancing in the fields to voices and music only she can hear. When she first sees the fair-haired Gideon, she mistakes him for an angel. Slowly the two move forward to the marriage that seems inevitable—but by time the couple are wed, neither of them is the person s/he was when they first met.

Ultimately, this is one of those novels that works its way into difficult spiritual questions, moving not toward a real resolution of those questions, but toward a new appreciation of the ordinary. The problem is, when one embraces the ordinary, sees what is, one also sees what one is not—simple joys are counter-weighted by a sense of all one isn’t, all one hasn’t accomplished.

This is a book to read when you’re not in a hurry, when you’re willing to mull things over slowly and to spend time immersed in the different characters’ consciousness. What would otherwise seem slow becomes fascinating, the pace perfect for the story.