Little Eden

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

In LITTLE EDEN, novelist Eva Figes recounts her experience at the Arkenside School in Cirencester, England, where, for a brief period in 1939 at the age of seven, Figes found a respite from the Holocaust in Germany, from which she and her family had fled, and from the terrors of London, under bombing attacks by the Germans.

The Arkenside School was a perfect environment for a young Jewish child who was too young to understand the magnitude of the evil from which she had been spared, or the depth of the sorrow from which her mother, who had left her parents behind in Germany, was suffering. Figes found the music lessons, books, nature walks, and freedom to grow at Arkenside worth the minor inconveniences suffered--meager food rations, medieval plumbing, and shared baths.

At Cirencester, Figes had room to grow and think, and to read. There, under the benign yet challenging tutelage of Zoe and Hillie, the two upper-class, middle-age spinsters who ran the school, Figes formed the sensibility--the attention to life around her, the love of words, and the drive to achieve--that formed the crux of her later work.

In LITTLE EDEN, one finds the emotion of a talented woman who has come face-to-face with her past and with the painful and joyful memories buried in time and the routines of day-to-day life. The writing is lyrical and undisciplined, the tone exalted and self-indulgent. One senses that the experiences recounted here have only recently been recovered in memory and contemplated by the writer. Those who enjoyed WAKING, LIGHT, and THE SEVEN AGES will appreciate this private glimpse into Figes’ early life.