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Gioconda Belli: El infinito en la palma de la mano (Infinity in the Palm of her Hand: A Novel of Adam and Eve)

I am not convinced by the translation of the title. The Spanish clearly says Infinity in the Palm of the Hand and not her hand. It could be his, her or their, according to the plot. The novel is, quite simply, a retelling of the story of Adam and Eve. Belli says her inspiration was reading Middle Eastern texts, the Dead Sea Scrolls and what we know as The Lost or Forbidden Books of the Bible. She tells the story as a fable and, of course, gives a much longer version of the story than is found in the Bible. The story starts abruptly with Adam suddenly appearing and wondering who he is and what he is doing there. But differences from the Bible start appearing straightaway. For example, Adam seems to know things though does not know why he knows them. Eve is continually asking him questions. In some cases, he cannot give an answer but, in others, he can given an answer but Eve is annoyed because he cannot say how and why he knows the answer. Both have pets, Adam’s a dog called Cain and Eve’s a cat. The characters of Adam and Eve are soon brought out. Adam is cautious while Eve is bold. It is always she who wants to try something and do something, including, of course, eating the forbidden fruit (a fig in this book and not an apple). Initially, we see little of God, called both The Other and Elokim (one of the Jewish names for God, representing his manifestation in nature). However, the Serpent plays a key role and will continue to do so.

Inevitably, the interesting bit starts after they are expelled from Paradise. Indeed, once they eat the forbidden fruit, there is a huge earthquake and the area of land they are standing on is split off from Paradise, though they can still see it. Once outside Paradise, they become human. Adam starts having sexual feelings for Eve. Both start feeling thirsty and then hungry though, initially, they do not know what to do about it. When Eve wants to eat fruit from a tree, Adam is wary, fearing that they have already suffered for eating fruit from tree. Eventually, he agrees and they do eat fruit. They watch the dog and cat, who, respectively, kill and eat rabbits and birds. Adam soon follows, killing rabbits but now it is Eve’s turn to object, the sight of blood turning her off. However, when they discover fire, thanks to the Serpent, they start eating meat. Eventually, of course, Eve gets pregnant and, of course, she is unsure of what is going on, particularly when she gets morning sickness. Meanwhile, they discover other things – fishing, art (Eve draws pictures on the wall of their cave) and death, when their dog is killed by a bear.

Things change when they have children. The Bible states that Adam had sons and daughters, in addition to Cain and Abel but it has always been unclear whom Cain marries (one of his sisters?). Belli confronts this head on. Cain has a female twin and so does Abel. When they grow up, the intention is that Cain and Abel marry the other twin. Of course, when Cain murders Abel, this does not work out. However, Belli handles this part very well, including the whole story of the children and their relationships with one another and their parents. The whole story that Belli tells is, as said, recounted as a fable and, even if you are not Christian, it is a fascinating account of a myth that most of us, at least in the West, know only from the Bible.

Publishing history

First published by Seix Barral in 2008
First published in English in 2010 by Harper
Translated by Margaret Sayers Peden