Children of Paradise: A Novel


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 ...

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Children of Paradise: A Novel

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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." 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.

Told with a sweeping perspective in lush prose, magical and devastating in its moral clarity, Children of Paradise is at last a testament to the liberating power of storytelling.

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Editorial Reviews

Edwidge Danticat
“Fred D’Aguiar’s magnum opus. He takes a story we think we know, Jonestown, and transforms it into an even larger, yet more intimate tragedy. A book not to be missed.”
The New York Times Book Review - Julia Scheeres
D'Aguiar depicts the plight of Trina and the other children with heartbreaking immediacy…Despite the fact that the fate of Jonestown is well known…the end of Children of Paradise was still raw and powerful enough to make me weep.
Publishers Weekly
D'Aguiar's (Bethany Bettany) fifth novel launches us into the 1978 Jonestown mass suicide and cult leader Jim Jones's twisted version of paradise: an isolated place where the inhabitants are starving and punished for the smallest infraction, where a community's adults allows live tarantulas and scorpions to crawl over small children as a test of their faith, where the spiritual leader is viewed as half-deity, half-rockstar by all who live there. Although readers learn little about the main characters, we do find out that the college-educated Joyce and her spirited daughter Trina are two of the commune's most respected members. Yet even they begin to have doubts after witnessing the preacher's deception and lies. Still, the most magical part of this story isn't Joyce or even Trina, but Adam, the enormous caged gorilla, whom the preacher uses to scare and control the members of the community. Adam is the book's heart and provides almost all the poignancy and dark humor. While D'Aguiar can describe starvation with prose so evocative it makes a person hunger for a piece of bread, he focuses little on the characters themselves—and the kind evil charisma that led to the suicides of 918 people. (Feb.)
Library Journal
Winner of the Whitbread First Novel Award for The Longest Memory, Guyana-born D'Aguiar here re-creates the final months of the commune formed by the Rev. Jim Jones in 1970s Guyana, immediately placing the reader inside its walls. As children play near the cage of a gorilla named Adam, a benevolent and intelligent presence, Adam reaches out and puts his arms around Trina. Jones arrives to free Trina but subsequently declares her dead, days later performing a miraculous and theatrical resurrection. Meanwhile, Trina and her mother, Joyce, who occasionally travels to the capital on business, have formed a strictly forbidden relationship with an outsider, the captain of the boat that services the community. As word that the commune is being investigated reaches Jones, the final act that has been hinted at looms large. Even as D'Aguiar lavishes his poetic talents on long, impressionistic passages describing the surrounding jungle's idyllic beauty and terrifying force, the present-tense narrative propels the story at a feverish pace. The reader is caught up in the commune's naïve spirituality, incomprehensible surrender of rational thought, and indifference to nature and the rest of the world. VERDICT A fascinating portrait of the horrifically flawed yet gifted Jones, whose preaching is dramatically and convincingly presented, [See Prepub Alert, 7/8/13.]—James Coan, SUNY at Oneonta Lib.
Kirkus Reviews
A mother and daughter seek to escape a commune headed by an autocratic preacher in D'Aguiar's (The Longest Memory, 1995, etc.) evocative novel, based on tragic events that occurred in 1978 in Jonestown, Guyana. They've surrendered their birth certificates, their worldly possessions and their free wills to follow a charismatic leader to an exotic location in the midst of a jungle. But their 3,000 acre commune is far from the utopia some devotees envisioned. Instead, members endure beatings and theatrical tests of faith, including ones that involve absolute trust while scorpions or tarantulas skitter up and down their arms. The preacher often uses fear and deceptive, "miraculous" resurrections to maintain a firm grip on a community that includes Joyce, her 10-year-old daughter, Trina, and a caged gorilla named Adam, whose thoughts and actions provide a unique perspective to D'Aguiar's narrative. Much as the preacher's praise and special attention ensure cooperation and adoration from his adherents, fruit and back scratches guarantee the gorilla's loyalty, at least for a time. But not all who live within the commune remain complacent. Some are labeled dissidents, and others, like Trina's friend Ryan, try to run away or go into hiding. Joyce holds a trusted position keeping the commune's books in order and makes occasional boat trips to the mainland office, where money often changes hands with local officials. She and the boat's captain develop an attraction, and he entertains Trina with stories about a spirited spider named Anansi while he verbally spars with Joyce when she defends the commune and invites him to join. When the preacher increasingly begins to single out Trina, Joyce and her daughter plan their escape from a community so enthralled with his promises they dutifully practice when he instructs them to rehearse the ultimate act. Joyce insists that they limit their plan of escape to themselves, but Trina has a change of heart. D'Aguiar's narrative adequately describes the brutality and manipulative efforts of a self-absorbed leader, and his depiction of Adam and the infusion of magical realism add an unusual and sympathetic aspect to the story. The author provides insight into the psyche of cult members, but it's still puzzling why any person would blindly follow such destructive directives.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780062277336
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 2/10/2015
  • Series: P.S.
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 400
  • Sales rank: 785,575
  • Product dimensions: 5.30 (w) x 7.70 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Fred D'Aguiar is an acclaimed novelist, playwright, and poet. He has been short-listed for the T. S. Eliot Prize for Poetry for Bill of Rights, a narrative poem about the Jonestown massacre, and won the Whitbread First Novel Award for The Longest Memory. Born in London, he was raised in Guyana until the age of twelve, when he returned to the UK. He teaches at Virginia Tech and is an American citizen.

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