Expedition to Eden by J. Manfred Weichsel Book Review
Expedition to Eden [Amazon link] is book of fantastic adventure that also shines a light on a fascinating little bit of American history: the escape of John Surratt. While of course also talking about fallen angels, Nephilim, and the Papal Zouaves.
John Surratt was the son of Mary Surratt, the woman in whose boarding house the plot to assassinate President Abraham Lincoln was formed. There is some reason to think John was involved in the conspiracy, but he escaped the fate of the others by fleeing to Canada, and then Europe, taking refuge in Catholic Churches.
Surratt eventually ended up in the Papal States, where he was briefly a Papal Zuavi or Zouave under an assumed name. Eventually, he was recognized, and extradited to the United States after another attempt at escape. He was tried for his involvement in the conspiracy, but a mistrial resulted in his release. At the time of his trial, he was only 23 years old.
Expedition to Eden takes place in the interlude intebetween John’s recognition in Rome, and his eventual capture in Egypt shortly afterwards. John takes the first opportunity he gets to skip town, which just happens to be in the company of a Northern Abolitionist with some kooky ideas about the Garden of Eden. Which is another interesting bit of history. The abolitionist movement largely moved in the same circles as the mid-nineteenth century religious revivals, and some of the things that came out of that environment were strange indeed, such as the Millerites.
Thus, John finds himself on a expedition to seek the Garden of Eden in decidedly uncongenial company. Not only is Dr. Key an ardent abolitionist, but his ideas about the Garden are a little unorthodox, to put it mildly. What follows is not what anyone involved expects, as John Surratt does his best to survive the mortal and moral peril he finds himself in.
In his author description, Weichsel says he is a fan of C. L. Moore, and I think I can see the influence here of Moore’s short story, “Fruit of Knowledge”. Moore’s story is a retelling of Genesis, while Weichsel’s is a re-imagining of Eden in the nineteenth century, but the inspiration is much the same. Like in Moore’s story, untempered sexual desire leads to much evil. Although Weichsel does add an element of utopianism that Moore did not have.
I also have a lot of unanswered questions about what exactly happened to John Surratt after his escape from Eden. Since Weichsel chose to write about a historical figure, it isn’t really a spoiler to disclose that John makes his trial date in 1867. John did what he felt he needed to do, but he is also a pious Catholic, and I wonder what that first Confession must have been like after he got out of Eden. I think it would have been interesting to explore this a bit more, but as this was a pretty short book, and mostly focused on adventure rather than moral theology, I’m not sure I can fault Weichsel for not writing the book he didn’t set out to write.
This is a quick read, but a fun one. So if you are in the market for some adventure, consider picking this up.