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Children of Paradise: A Novel by Fred…

Children of Paradise: A Novel

by Fred D'Aguiar

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424273,462 (3.57)5



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I so enjoy books where lyrical evocative writing brings to life the time and place of the storyline. Children of Paradise is such a book. The time is the late 1970s, and the place is commune deep in the jungles of Guyana. The storyline is loosely based on the true events of Jim Jones’s utopian community but especially speaks to the voiceless children and their lives in this environment. As beautiful as the prose is it is plainspoken in oppression, heartbreak, and blind faith expected of the all commune inhabitants.
But it was Adam, the commune gorilla that had me turning the pages. I loved hearing his thoughts on what was going on around him and how he made decisions based on his own fate and survival. His back story and what his dreams were also a nice touch.
I liked how the tension was slowly built and maintained throughout the story. Even though I knew the outcome it did not keep me from being hopeful and optimistic that some would escape the fatal outcome. There is one haunting heartbreaking scene that was so beautifully written that it will stay with me long past finishing the book. The children are so hungry (they stayed in a stage of hunger and growling stomachs while the leader feasted every meal) and make a plan to “steal” a loaf of bread and Ryan decided among the children that he was the best person for the job. I was like the children holding my breath and taking every step with Ryan.
I recommend this book to those who enjoy stories about wolves who walk around in sheep’s clothing. ( )
  bookmuse56 | Jun 25, 2014 |
I remember hearing about Jim Jones, his commune and the over nine hundred people that he had drink the poisonous kool-aide. I of course was appalled and wondered how one man could convince all these people to leave their lives and follow him to a jungle location and then literally kill themselves. What makes people so desperate and one man so enthralling? The author explains that the subject of this book was influenced by that happening but does not exactly follow those events. The author himself was raised in Guyana until the age of twelve, so I am sure he had heard many, many stories about these events, as he was growing up.

Even though this book is not exact in its telling it is still chilling in its realism. The jungle, the city when the commune workers need to go to their headquarters, though only trusted workers were allowed off site, were beautiful and lushly described. As if the beauty stands in direct contrast to the evil that was being perpetrated in the commune. Joyce, a college graduate and her daughter Trina, follow Jones from California to Guyana. They are some of the more privileged members and it is their story that this novel follows. Also Adam, and I think he was the star of the show. A gorilla who was caged on the commune, used to provoke fear in the followers, but a thinking being in this book. his thoughts and actions are a wonderful addition to this story.

Of course as was true in the real story, Jones declining health, outside forces spinning out of control and is anyone in this version left alive? That would be spoiling the story for other and I would never do that. Very good novel, felt like I was part of their lives for a short time, could not help pulling for Joyce, Trina and the other children, Adam as well.

ARC from publisher. ( )
  Beamis12 | Jan 1, 2014 |
“Children of Paradise,” by Fred D'Aguiar, veers quite a bit afield from the real-life story of the Jonestown massacre upon which it claims to be based; in particular, there’s a pet gorilla that plays a key role in this fictional utopian compound and this cult is tightly controlled by religious rather than social-political fanaticism. So, don’t read this book if your intent is to discover the history of that tragedy. If you want to try to understand the actual events of the 1978 mass murder/suicide of 909 American citizens while living as members of the People’s Temple Agricultural Project in Guyana run by mentally-disordered charismatic leader Jim Jones, there are many good nonfiction books and documentary movies…or you can take the easy route and read the extensive, well-researched and footnoted articles on Wikipedia concerning “Jim Jones” and “Jonestown.”

The main reason to read this novel, and its best accomplishment, is that it captures the possible interior psychological and emotional dynamics of mass suicide within a mind-controlling cult from a child’s perspective. For that stellar thematic accomplishment, the book earns an enthusiastic five stars.

Of course, it takes more than the outstanding delivery of a theme to make an overall five-star novel.

Taking a look at the writing, I was both delighted and shocked by D’Aguiar’s prose; it was surprisingly irregular for an author who has garnered a number of literary awards. Much of his straight descriptive passages were thrilling. He frequently uses idiosyncratic, active, muscular poetic descriptions like this one: “Light crawls up the trunks of trees all around the settlement. Red flames lick the branches and leaves as the sun buries itself in the horizon. A flock of parakeets spreads a bright palette across the stretched canvas of sky.” I loved these unique, energetic metaphors, but naturally, a novel needs more than vivid descriptions to sustain itself. It needs something happening. It needs real action…and it is here that the book failed me almost completely. The action was slow-going, static, and lifeless. Most of the book (perhaps as much as 75%), consists of extensive passages of descriptive action…i.e., telling rather than showing. For example: “Kevin tells Eric to take a shot if he can. Joyce begs them to wait. Eric orders Trina to move away from Adam, but she refuses to move.” In a more dynamic, compelling novel, all that action and dialogue would take pages of showing and that showing would be dynamic and pull the reader in a compelling fashion through the story arc. Telling is okay for short passages, but when most of the novel consists of telling, well, it creates a major problem. Frankly, this aspect of the novel was mind numbing! I had to push myself to finish it. For making the mistake of mostly telling rather than showing, the author earns my scorn, plus one star; for the beauty of his poetic descriptive prose, he easily earns another five stars.

The ending was a completely unexpected, haunting, and lovely surprise…one that earned the novel another big five stars. It was at first puzzling, and then arresting, and finally, wholly satisfying. The ending gave meaning to all that had come before and helped me to appreciate the novel as a whole.

So, how do I give an overall rating to an uneven book like this? Despite the many ways that this novel earned five stars, in the end, I can honestly only assign it an over all three-star rating. Part of me pulls strongly toward a one- or two-star rating, but what holds me back is that I find myself genuinely pleased that I read it. In fact, I find myself sincerely happy I did not miss reading it. “Children of Paradise” is one of those books that linger in the mind. In the end, it made me feel like I’d taken a long difficult journey toward a ray of uncommonly complex understanding of the human condition.

I cautiously recommend this novel, but only to those readers singularly interested in the psychological dynamics of a mass-suicide from a child’s point of view…and these readers must also be able to forgive a literary author for making the gross error of too much telling rather than showing. If you are such a reader, and you’re interested in this topic, by all means read this affecting, emotive retelling of a strange chapter in the annals of humanity. ( )
  msbaba | Dec 23, 2013 |
When you are telling a story about an entire community that no longer lives, who narrates the story? Consider this for a moment. As an author, do you pick one of the dying? Do you pick the remote outsider who, in no way, could not possibly know the intricacies of daily life? From the first page, Frank D'Aguiar hit it out of the park with Children of Paradise, a fictionalized story based on Jim Jones utopian society of Jonestown. Ever heard the expression, "drinking the Kool-aid"? Well, this is the story that started that and it's all told in a third person narrative that keys into one figure in the society that is the most removed - Adam, the captured gorilla.

Read the rest of this review at The Lost Entwife on Dec. 22, 2013. ( )
  TheLostEntwife | Dec 20, 2013 |
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"Based on the terrible truths of Jonestown, Jim Jones's utopian commune in Guyana, Children of Paradise is a beautifully imagined novel that interweaves history and fiction to portray a mother and daughter's escape from the rule of a religious madman. Joyce and her young daughter, Trina, have followed a charismatic preacher from California to the wilds of Guyana, where a thousand congregants have cleared a swath of dense jungle and built a utopian society based on a rigid order guarded over by armed men and teenage "prefects." Each day ends with sermons that demonstrate the preacher's capricious violence and his utmost hostility toward even a whisper of skepticism. But try as the preacher may to block out the world, the commune's seclusion is being breached, first by tribal elders complaining of polluted river water downstream, then by an invisible presence that has helped a young boy to disappear, and finally with rumors of the imminent arrival of a congressional delegation on a fact-finding mission. As the camp begins rehearsing an endgame of mass suicide, Joyce and Trina attempt a daring escape, aided by a local boat captain and the most unlikely of prisoners--the extraordinary Adam, the commune's caged gorilla" --… (more)

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