Infinity in the Palm of Her Hand NPR/The Cronicle Review

‘Infinity in the Palm of Her Hand’

Alan Cheuse, Special to The Chronicle

Sunday, March 22, 2009

A novel by a former Sandinista about life with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden might suggest the possibility of a revolutionary new view of an old story.

In fact, Nicaragua-born fiction writer Gioconda Belli, in her new novel “Infinity in the Palm of Her Hand,” treats the subject of our first parents like biblical science fiction.

Her narrative goes from one great first-time event in human life to another: first awareness of us having minds, first time we cry, first orgasm, the first onset of menses; and the invention of sushi (Adam and Eve discover raw fish), the first fishing net (the first couple are cleverly inspired from the shape of a mushroom), the first clothing and the first work of art (Eve makes a cave painting to celebrate Adam’s first hunting expedition). And the first human experience of winter. And childbirth.

Belli presents all this with a deftness and clarity that may remind you of Doris Lessing’s inventiveness at its best. To some readers the literalness will seem, paradoxically, blasphemous. To some readers, the book will not have gone far enough in its scrutiny of the biblical story. One thing is sure: After this novel you won’t read the Book of Genesis in the same way again.

Alan Cheuse is a book commentator for National Public Radio. E-mail him at books@sfchronicle.com.

This article appeared on page J – 3 of the San Francisco Chronicle

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