A novel by New York author Paul Harding that tells a fictionalized story based on the real-life atrocity at Malaga Island off Maine’s coast in the early 20th century has been named a finalist for the prestigious Booker Prize.

Harding’s third novel, “This Other Eden,” was one of six finalists announced Thursday. The winner will be announced in November.


This combination of images shows “Ponyboy” by Eliot Duncan, from left, “This Other Eden” by Paul Harding, “Night Watch” by Jayne Anne Phillips, and “A Council of Dolls” by Mona Susan Power. W. W. Norton/Mariner Books/W. W. Norton via AP

The Booker Prize, considered one of the top awards for fiction, is open to works by writers of any nationality, written in English and published in the U.K. or Ireland. It was first awarded in 1969. Past winners include Margaret Atwood, George Saunders, and Ian McEwan.

Last year, part-time Maine resident Elizabeth Strout was a finalist for her novel, “Oh William!”

Harding, 55, won the Pulitzer Prize in 2010 for his debut novel “Tinkers,” and was a musician for many years before becoming a novelist. He lives on Long Island.

“This Other Eden,” is set on the fictional Apple Island, which is a stand-in for Malaga Island, a 40-plus acre island off the coast of Phippsburg that was settled in the mid-19th century by a mixed-race community of European, African, and Native American descent.


In 1912, state officials forcibly removed the entire community of more than 40 residents. Many of them were incarcerated on questionable grounds at the Maine School for the Feebleminded in New Gloucester, where most spent the rest of their lives. State officials later dug up 17 bodies in the island cemetery, distributed them into five caskets, and buried them at the School of the Feebleminded – now Pineland Farms – where they remain today.

That shameful episode of Maine’s history wasn’t talked about openly for many years.

In her review for the Press Herald in February, Portland author Genanne Walsh said the book is “brief in length but lands with the weight of a prophecy.”

“Harding’s plot follows the bare outline of those real-life islanders: a community living in peace is exiled from their longtime home in what is essentially a government land grab, many conscripted to institutions, victims of racist displacement and bureaucratic bungling,” she wrote. “Harding’s novel makes the tragedy palpable and urgent, revealing long-buried history with an intimacy and power that’s hard to shake.”

Walsh also drew attention to Harding, a white author, who created Black and brown characters.

“Valuable criticism has raised the question: can and should writers write ‘outside their lane?’ Doing so risks cliché and clumsiness; at worst, it can cause real harm,” she wrote. “Harding sets doubt aside, focusing on what fiction is uniquely equipped to do: each indelible character is crafted from the inside out, with exacting care and empathy.”


“This Other Eden” is also on the long list of finalists for the National Book Award.

Harding is one of two Americans named as finalists for the 2023 Booker Prize. The other is, “If I Survive You,” by Jonathan Escoffery.

The four remaining finalists are: “The Bee Sting,” by Paul Murray of Ireland; “Prophet Song,” by Paul Lynch, also of Ireland; “Western Lane,” by Chetna Maroo, who was born in Kenya and lives in the U.K.; and “Study for Obedience,” by Sarah Bernstein, a Canadian living in Scotland.

None of the six finalists has been on the shortlist before.

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