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The Language of Paradise

Set in nineteenth-century New England, this exquisite novel tests a woman's love against her husband's utopian quest.

Sophy Hedge, the daughter of the town minister, falls in love with Gideon Birdsall, a gifted theology student assisting her father with a Hebrew lexicon. Sophy, an amateur artist, is drawn to his angelic looks, which seem to embody his intellect, passion, and idealism, while Gideon glimpses in her a child of nature unbound by convention. Yet after they wed, Gideon's restlessness worries her, and she struggles to connect with him as he flounders in his new roles of pastor and family head. When the mysterious and magnetic teacher Leander Solloway enters their lives, Gideon believes he has found a like soul. As the schoolmaster gains influence over her husband, a newly pregnant Sophy translates her fears into secret paintings.

In a daring experiment to unlock the mysteries of the first language, the primal tongue spoken in the Garden of Eden, Gideon and Leander attempt to recreate a pristine and tightly controlled environment in which to raise the baby. Isolated from the influence of family and neighbors, they hope to witness the genesis of a pure speech while "raising up this fallen garden by the same means as it was created: word by word." But "Paradise is a worm that eats at the brain," and Sophy, unaware of their intentions until it is too late, must decide whether to live in the world her husband has made or escape to save her child and herself.

Addressing the timeless issues of creation, possession, and the elusive dream of perfection, The Language of Paradise captures the fragility of human longing.

  • Publisher: W.W. Norton & Company

  • ISBN: 9780393057133
  • Publication Date: April 06 2015

Praise for The Language of Paradise

In her ambitious, and painstakingly researched, debut novel, Ms. Moss takes the reader on a compelling journey into 1830s New England, in which repressive Calvinism runs headlong into a Transcendentalist quest to find an elusive utopia right here on Earth.... (A) precocious and bold first novel...

— Chloe T. Barlow, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

(4 1/2 stars) The author's faithful rendering of language and custom creates a sense of the stifling paternal mentality that defines women's behavior as Sophy is forced to break with a lifetime of concession and obedience to save her family from an unnatural fate born of the conceits of men.

— Michael Leonard, Curled Up with a Good Book

(A) profoundly beautiful and surprising book. Passion becomes all the more thrilling in its conscious restraint, while the glory of this world -- and the next -- glimmers in the everyday surroundings...Moss has created a complex and very real society, pulsing with ambition and moments of grace, as well as with dreams both humble and grand...(A) book that takes us into a dream state while leaving us with a hard look at what it takes to make our way through the here and now.

— Vickie Fang, Best New Fiction

As with all great literature, the themes here have universal appeal: the quest for personal paradise . . . and how this can drive people mad; the projection of qualities onto others; and the disillusionment that can result therein. But there is levity here, too, as Sophy transcends her experiences and grows into a wise, powerful woman.

— Dorothy Reno, Washington Independent Review of Books

This is an entrancing, deeply troubling and daring story of the human spirit bound to earth, dispossessed of Paradise, and longing to return. It is so compelling I actually dreamed it at night. Highly recommended.

Historical Novel Society

The novel's world never collapses under the weight of the substantial research that informs it; it is vibrant and, especially in the second half, engrossing. Throughout, Moss's language is precise and controlled, effectively describing the inner lives of Gideon and, in particular, Sophy, whose initial childlike innocence makes way for something much stronger and harder earned.

— Publishers Weekly

(starred review) A linguistic tour de force whose deft exploration of language, intellect, family, love, nature, and art will delight discerning readers everywhere, especially fans of Nathaniel Hawthorne and Henry James.

— Library Journal

You've never quite read a book like Barbara Klein Moss's The Language of Paradise before. Entirely original in its conception and execution, it is a masterfully written, deftly detailed novel about early American intellectual, spiritual, and practical life…and what might lie beyond it.

— Debra Spark, author of The Pretty Girl

The Language of Paradise quickly carves its own stunningly unique niche in the realm of historical fiction. The indelibly drawn characters think with their hearts, love with their minds as they navigate their faith and their passions. Moss's debut novel is unconventional in all the right ways.

— Kimberly Elkins, author of What Is Visible

Barbara Klein Moss inhabits the hearts and minds of her characters with such empathy that it's hard not to feel that she witnessed their complicated lives first hand. I am full of admiration for the way in which The Language of Paradise brings to life the struggles of faith and family. An utterly absorbing novel.

— Margot Livesey, author of The Flight of Gemma Hardy

Compelling, powerful, lit by art and language, this novel of ideas embodies in the struggles of a passionate family a great intellectual and spiritual conflict. And what a family this is! Moss's brilliantly realized characters will stay with me for a long time.

— Andrea Barrett, author of Archangel and Ship Fever

Little Edens: Stories

These eight magical stories address the Edenic spaces that people create in their lives and the serpents that subtly inhabit them. In "Rug Weaver" (selected for Best American Short Stories 2001) an Iranian rug dealer makes a paradise of his prison cell by weaving an elaborate rug in his mind. Grieving parents in the title story transfigure a luxury subdivision in southern California into a vision of heaven. And in the novella "The Palm Tree of Dilys Cathcart" an unlikely love story unfolds between an Orthodox Jewish butcher and a lonely English piano teacher, who discovers a hunger for intimacy and ritual as she helps the butcher transcribe the mysterious songs he hears in his head. These and other stories constitute an elegant and richly evocative collection about the complexities of worldly and spiritual desires.

  • Publisher: W.W. Norton & Company

  • ISBN: 9780393326369
  • Publication Date: January 28 2005

Praise for Little Edens: Stories

With Little Edens, Barbara Klein Moss seems to have come into the world full-blown. These stories, beautifully balanced and assured, are filled with wisdom, humor, sadness, and love. The concluding novella is magnificent. The sturdy, elegant structure, the building eroticism and the way that weaves so seamlessly into the mysticism — well, it is utterly memorable.

— Andrea Barrett

Moss's readings of heart and mind are impressive enough; but where she excels is at the workbench. The right word, the flawless sentence, the echoing simile — Moss can write.

— James H. Bready, Baltimore Sun