Friday, April 13, 2012

Review: Searching for Eden

Searching for Eden
Searching for Eden by Keith Madsen

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Can also be viewed on my blog: Now is Gone

Book Info: Genre: Inspirational/Christian fiction Reading Level: Adult

Disclosure: I received a free eBook copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.

Synopsis: When Evan Jordan’s 14-year old daughter dies of cancer, he goes on a quest to find a place where children don’t die, and where life is still good. The search is inspired by an interest his dying daughter expressed in the Garden of Eden. Could it be that such a place still exists somewhere? Using a small inheritance, he goes searching for that mythical garden, hoping thereby to rediscover the goodness and innocence he lost with the young girl’s death. Evan’s story intersects with those of a beautiful divorced archaeologist, a 14-year old Hispanic prostitute, and an Iranian woman who killed her rapist; all of whom join Evan in his quest. The journey brings together Christians and Jews, Muslims and skeptics, all looking to recover a sense of goodness at the heart of life and human relationship. Evan and friends travel through Iran and Iraq and even to the Island of Bahrain, looking for clues to the Garden’s reality, and whether it might still be found. They dig in ancient cemeteries, climb ziggurats, race through war zones and examine bizarre art carved into human skulls; all the time seeking the secret to humanity’s foundational myth. In the process of searching they run afoul of the Iranian government for getting too close to nuclear sites, they battle militants, and they have to decide who to trust in a very dangerous part of the world. Will what they find make it worth the risk?

My Thoughts: I was somewhat hesitant about reading this book, as I was afraid that it would be too depressing. However, the author assured me that, while there are definitely sad bits, especially at the beginning, it is an overall upbeat and hopeful book, full of inspiration and the search for goodness in humans’ souls. Since the author is a Baptist minister, I figured I could trust him and accepted the book for review. My hesitance has carried over, I’m afraid, and it took me a long time to get to this, for which I humbly ask the author’s forgiveness.

This really was a great book – about redemption, discovering what is important, what life is about. I was very impressed with Madsen’s willingness to use... shall we say, less than holy language to make some of the characters realistic. I was also impressed with his ability to look at other religions – not just the various forms of Christianity, but also Judaism, Islam, and the ancient religions and stories of the people who predate the stories of the Bible – in an honest light, and accept that there are differences between them, and similarities, and that all should be respected. This sort of attitude is not one that is often found among Baptists, at least from my experience with Baptists – while there are many good people among the Baptists, they tend to be rather hellfire-and-brimstone in their teachings, and intolerant of other religions. Maybe I’ve just been lucky (or, rather, unlucky) in the congregations I’ve encountered, or maybe things have changed in the 20 years since I’ve removed myself from the hypocrisy of the church environment in which I was raised. But I digress … the book is the important thing, right?

There was one event that really got to me. It was toward the end of the book and the group was approaching Nineveh, and Dr. Goldman was explaining the story of Jonah, and how he wanted Nineveh to be destroyed, he didn’t want to forgive them, as Nineveh was considered to be the capitol of Israel’s greatest enemy. But his God told Jonah that he needed to understand that He, Yahweh, should also consider that Nineveh had 120,000 children and many animals and He wasn’t going to destroy it just to satisfy Jonah’s need for vengeance. Dr. Goldman then said that we still haven’t learned to forgive our enemies and let the Creator sort things out. That really resonated with me. But then, I immediately thought of all the times, littered throughout the Old Testament, where Yahweh instructed the children of Israel to go into a land, take it over, and slaughter everyone – man, woman, children and animals – and make it their own land. Or all the times when Yahweh says He will destroy all Israel’s enemies. And then turns around and says He will destroy Israel, too – because they may be His chosen children, but they’re naughty children and He doesn’t like it. So, one story in the Bible about forgiving your enemies and dozens about destroying them – which do you think people will be paying attention to? That’s the problem with religions – they all think they have a lifeline directly to God and that theirs is the only one that is right and therefore they are justified in waging war against anyone who stands against them. This is wrong! In fact, none of them have it right (in my not-so-humble opinion), and it is only by learning as much as one can about every religion out there that one can glean the tiny bits of truth that each contain. It isn’t important to be religious, or to follow some dogma some old man a thousand-some years ago decided was the truth (according to him and his church); it is important to be spiritual, to live a good life, and to listen to the small, still voice within yourself that will tell you your own, personal Truth.

But, like I often do, I again digress... People who are hide-bound, and not willing to accept that there are different perspectives and worldviews, and that other religious beliefs should be accepted and respected, might have trouble with enjoying this book, as it will challenge their conceptions of the world. However, people who like inspirational fiction, with stories that are about humanity and its challenges and need to realize that we are all one race – the human race – will undoubtedly enjoy this book a great deal. Those who are interested in archeology and ancient cultures should especially enjoy this book, as two of the main characters – Dr. Santiago and Dr. Goldman – are archaeologists who are passionate about their work and frequently give little lectures about the places and people they are around, which I found fascinating. Madsen must have put a lot of research into this book, and I was impressed about how he represented all the stories and myths as being of equal importance in understanding the history of people and the history of why there is so much conflict and unrest in the world. I quite enjoyed it, despite being slowed down in my reading by a persistent migraine. I can honestly say there are a lot of people who will enjoy this story immensely, like I did.

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