Seeking Eden

Written by Ann Turnbull
Review by Richard Lee

This final book in Ann Turnbull’s Quaker trilogy sees Will and Susanna leave behind the troubles and abuse of the Old World and travel with their grown-up children to William Penn’s new colony in Philadelphia. The story is from the point of view of Jos, their 16-year-old boy, as he struggles to find work, love and self respect in his new environment.

I found the storytelling subtle and engaging. Jos is by no means a goody-goody Quaker, but at root he has strong faith and principles. The form of his faith encourages him to question accepted wisdom, even the newly accepted wisdom of radicals – and this puts him at odds with both his family and the new community he has joined. The New World depicted is fresh, international and challenging in unexpected ways. Above all it proves not to be entirely unconnected with other worlds – it is no Eden. Trade takes Jos to the sugar plantations, and he is drawn unwillingly but inexorably into the coils of the slave trade. We care deeply about this: not just for the abused Africans, but for the morally compromised Christians.

I haven’t read the earlier books yet, but I certainly will. Ann Turnbull writes deftly about this period without ducking the issues or over-dramatising the very real dilemmas. There is plenty of conflict, but also strong supportive and loving characters, and in the end these characters feel the most real. I like that!