Fiction review: ‘Infinity in the Palm of Her Hand: A Novel of Adam and Eve” by Gioconda Belli
By Chauncey Mabe
March 15, 2009
Fiction drawn from the Bible has always been the province of hacks or, at best, the middle-brow.
For every Joseph and His Brothers, Thomas Mann’s magisterial novel, there are dozens — nay, hundreds! — of titles such as The Red Tent, Ben-Hur, The Robe, or the fundamentalist propaganda of Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins.
Maybe it’s a matter of fools rushing in where angels fear to tread — which makes Gioconda Belli’s reinvention of the creation story, Infinity in the Palm of Her Hand, the more astonishing.
A one-time Sandinista, now an intellectual opponent of Daniel Ortega’s Nicaraguan government, Belli is the author of two international best-sellers: a novel (The Inhabited Woman) and a memoir (The Country Under My Skin).
In Infinity in the Palm of Her Hand, Belli is no reductionist. She endows Adam and Eve with psychological verisimilitude, but she works within the transcendent implications of the Bible story.
Belli begins at the first moment of human existence: “And he was. Suddenly.
“From not being to being conscious that he was. He opened his eyes.”
In lyrical yet precise language, Belli moves to Eve’s creation from Adam’s rib; their shared joy of discovery in the Garden; the innocent curiosity and desire to exercise freedom that leads Eve to eat of the Tree of Knowledge; and on to the story of Cain and Abel.
In Belli’s telling, it is God’s design for Adam and Eve to eat the forbidden fruit, thereby setting in motion the drama of human history. But they nonetheless merit punishment, cast from Paradise for the sin of disobeying his command.
Adam and Eve are aware that each thing they do will be endlessly repeated by their descendants. Among the most important is the act of physical love. In a passage that displays the grace and confidence of her prose style, Belli writes of intimacy:
“Even if words were to desert them and silence fill their minds, they would be able to lie together and say things to each other without speaking. They thought that this was undoubtedly the knowledge the Serpent had told them they would possess when they ate of the fruit of the Tree. Rocking together, arms around each other, they returned to nothingness, and their bodies, unbounded, were created anew to mark the beginning of the world and of History.”
Infinity in the Palm of Her Hand is that rare thing, a nearly perfect novel. I can think of no way it might be improved. It is myth — in the literary sense — of the highest and most rewarding kind.
Chauncey Mabe can be reached at cmabe@SunSentinel.com or 954-356-4710. Visit his Facebook page.