The second edition of Keith Madsen’s novel Searching for Eden is the story of a grieving father’s quest to fulfill his fourteen-year-old daughter’s dying vision of the Garden of Eden as affirmation that life on this earth is in fact good. Joining him on this quest are Carmen Ortega, a fourteen-year-old prostitute, and a young archeologist, Jessica Santiago. How these three people come together to set out on the quest I will leave for you to discover.
Evan’s quest takes them to one of the most dangerous areas of the world: Iran, Iraq, and Syria. The plot moves along at a rapid, page-turning clip as they encounter corrupt government officials, an Iranian woman who has been broken out of jail after killing her attempted rapist, a kidnapping, a spying charge, armed religious extremists, and a harrowing high-speed car chase–not to mention, a burgeoning romance between Evan and Jessica.
Searching for Eden is a seamless integration of several genres: adventure, romance, and coming-of-age. The prose is flowing and polished, taking on a distinct homiletic cadence toward the end of the book.
My favorite parts of the book were the scenes at various archeological digs, as they were the most closely-related to the search for Eden, as well as providing inherently interesting historical information about the ancient world.
One of the major themes in the novel is the question of whether the Bible is a sacred text or a historical artifact. It follows, then, that Jessica’s being an archeologist is critical to story. It raises the overarching question on which Searching for Eden turns. Was the Garden of Eden a physical place or a metaphor for a state of innocence and grace–and, ultimately, does it matter?
I would recommend Searching for Eden as a book club selection because the book raises so many universal questions to prompt rich discussion. Why would a loving God let the innocent suffer? What is the nature of redemption, and what does it take to be redeemed? Can ideological and cultural differences that become the politics of nations ever be bridged and reconciled?
Two kinds of experiences inspired the writing of Searching for Eden. As a retired minister I have dealt with a lot of people who’ve gone through painful losses: parents who have lost children or other loved ones – and that’s like a part of themselves has been ripped away from them; young people who had fallen in love, and found that suddenly the other person says they don’t love them anymore, and the person wonders if they can ever love and trust again; people who lose their dream, and the future before them now looks dark and foreboding. They all ask, can life be good again?
A second kind of experience behind the writing is simply the kind of world we seem to be living in right now. People just don’t trust anymore, even in their own families. Lies of the ugliest kind rule our political life. That is what the Fall in Eden was all about – lack of trust and a lie that lost humankind our Paradise. Soon after that brother was killing brother, and that has been happening ever since. The search for Eden is a search to recover love, trust and harmony in our world. We are on a quest to recover the goodness of life.
Keith has shared the two photographs below, while noting that “Pictures are difficult. People need to envision their own view of Eden. One is an intriguing picture of two lovers buried together in an ancient grave. Were they an ancient “Adam and Eve”? In any case the picture is a symbol of the eternity of love. The other is a picture of a Ziggurat near Ur, the ancient city Abraham (the spiritual father of Jews, Muslims and Christians) was originally from. Ziggurats were the Mesopotamian equivalent of the Egyptian pyramids. They were an attempt to regain the closeness to God the Bible says was lost after Eden.”