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Children of Paradise

3.34  ·  Rating details ·  231 ratings  ·  50 reviews
In this beautifully imagined novel, based on the horrific true events at Jim Jones's utopian commune in Guyana, the acclaimed novelist, playwright and poet Fred D'Aguiar returns to the land of his youth, interweaving magical realism and shocking history into a story that resonates with love, faith, oppression, and sacrifice in which a mother and daughter attempt to break f ...more
Hardcover, 384 pages
Published February 11th 2014 by Harper (first published February 6th 2014)
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Average rating 3.34  · 
Rating details
 ·  231 ratings  ·  50 reviews

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Lydia Presley
Dec 13, 2013 rated it it was amazing
When you are telling a story about an entire community that no longer lives, who narrates the story? Consider this for a moment. As an author, do you pick one of the dying? Do you pick the remote outsider who, in no way, could not possibly know the intricacies of daily life? From the first page, Fred D'Aguiar hit it out of the park with Children of Paradise, a fictionalized story based on Jim Jones utopian society of Jonestown. Ever heard the expression, "drinking the Kool-aid"? Well, this is th ...more
Mocha Girl
Jan 02, 2014 rated it liked it
“He reminds them their children belong to God and their lives will be better in God’s hands and not his and not this commune, and no place on this god-forsaken earth is good enough for his flock, only the kingdom of heaven, only everlasting life.”

Inspired by the actual events of Jonestown, Guyana, Children of Paradise is an imagined story told from primarily three points of view: a child (Trina), her mother (Joyce), and Adam (the caged “pet” gorilla) during the last months before the tragedy. T
Diane S ☔
Dec 20, 2013 rated it really liked it
I remember hearing about Jim Jones, his commune and the over nine hundred people that he had drink the poisonous kool-aide. I of course was appalled and wondered how one man could convince all these people to leave their lives and follow him to a jungle location and then literally kill themselves. What makes people so desperate and one man so enthralling? The author explains that the subject of this book was influenced by that happening but does not exactly follow those events. The author himsel ...more
Nov 18, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Trina and her mother, Joyce left to make a new life in the jungles of Guyana. Trina's motehr followed the "Preacher". Now they are among others who also have followed in the way of the "preacher".

One day an incident happens to changes Trina and her mother's lives forever. Trina is attacked by the community's gorilla named Adam. She was originally thought dead until she was brought back to life. Things don't get better for Trina. In fact all the extra attention makes Trina nervous. Then there is
cardulelia carduelis
Another book with such an exciting premise, only to fail utterly on delivery.
I enjoyed the first 30 or so pages of Children of Paradise: the writing was nothing special but it was clear and the plot moved along. The Gorilla POV was gimmicky but didn't throw off the story, it didn't really add anything either.
But then we reached a flat point in the story - daily life in the camp - and everything became extremely tedious. Joyce's loyalties jumped all over the place, her actions conflicted with he
Mar 07, 2014 rated it it was ok
Because the ending was so whacky, it is where I start with this review. What is the takeaway for the reader? It is pretty unclear in the murky ending, was there an escape? Were they all left drinking or dreaming? I think the author tried to be poetic with the ending, but I don't really think it worked well and for me dropped the book to 2 stars. From the jacket blurb we learn this novel is based on "the terrible truths of Jonestown, Jim Jones's utopian commune in Guyana..." If one is unfamiliar ...more
This is an interesting novel based on the horrific events at Jonestown. This is a very stylized, literary re-telling with a constantly shifting perspective - opening up from the eyes of Adam, the commune’s gorilla. But this adds to paint a complete picture of life in the commune without ever once straying into a lurid tone or sensationalization of the topic. It is an absorbing novel from its very first pages and even for those who are not familiar with the events surrounding the 918 deaths at th ...more
I so enjoy books where lyrical evocative writing brings to life the time and place of the storyline. Children of Paradise is such a book. The time is the late 1970s, and the place is commune deep in the jungles of Guyana. The storyline is loosely based on the true events of Jim Jones’s utopian community but especially speaks to the voiceless children and their lives in this environment. As beautiful as the prose is it is plainspoken in oppression, heartbreak, and blind faith expected of the all ...more
Sep 15, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
These days, "drinking the Kool-Aid" is one of those toss-off lines - sadly, I remember watching the news when it became a horrific reality. In Children of Paradise, the author does a good job of imagining what it was like to be part of a communal group living in an unnamed South American jungle. Readers are slightly removed from the action despite the use of first person points-of-view because he never uses the word "I" but always refers to the p.o.v. by their name ("The preacher says..."). And ...more
Jessica Buike
Feb 16, 2014 rated it liked it
I both loved and hated this book, which I received an Advance Copy of prior to final editing. I loved the inside look of a "Koolaid Cult", for lack of a better description, and the religious obedience ingrained into every single act. It was masterfully scary, terrifyingly realistic and yet so unbelievable that you knew it could happen anywhere at any time. However, the story did have some bits and pieces that felt disjointed and confused the overall plot, and some of the characters felt forced. ...more
Jun 06, 2014 marked it as abandoned-dnf  ·  review of another edition
I'm old enough to remember Guyana insanity and that freak Jim Jones. It should make amazing (and horrific) background for a novel. This should have been that amazing and horrific novel.

Regardless, I'm abandoning it because it's yet one more author who has given into the fad of writing in present-tense and passive voice, and I have come to loathe it. It doesn't help that the two chapters I've read are from the POV of a gorilla, one that has been anthropomorphized to the point that he probably ha
Alison Sumprer
Jul 13, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This was a really good book, but so sad. I grew up hearing people talk about "drinking the kool-aid" but didn't know what it really referred to until I was an adult and watched a documentary about Jim Jones and his settlement in Guyana. This book really brought the whole, tragic thing to life for me. It was beautifully written and my heart breaks for Adam and Trina in the book, as well as the poor children who really did die that day. It was so moving and will stick with me for a long time.
Jun 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing
It was once explained to me that the story of the cult leader Jim Jones and the Peoples Temple is so unbelievable that were it merely a work of fiction, it would too implausible to be taken seriously. This theory kept running through my mind as I devoured every word of D'Aguiar's stunning attempt to test its limits. Within the first page of his exploration into the mass murder of the residents of Jonestown, Guyana, it is clear that he is operating well within the parameters of fiction, and that ...more
Jun 22, 2018 rated it really liked it
I was unsurprised to read of the authors acclaim for poetry: the prose is lush and lyrical, weaving a spell that draws the reader in. I didn't want to be drawn in because I couldn't see things ending well. I read a lot of psychological thrillers/crime/murder/mystery books which often don't end well but somebody gets their comeuppance or lessons are learned or the key players get really drunk and shag their co-workers.

No such LOLlage here. This book was loosely based on events of Jonestown, a set
Sep 02, 2017 rated it liked it
It took me a while to get into this book but when i did I couldn't put it down. Really wish I hadn't carried on reading as I never been so frustrated by an ending. I literally cant work out what is happening at the end despite reading the last few chapters again a few times. Why are Joyce, Trina , Rose and ryan lining up to drink cyanide?, didnt they make it onto the boat? how did the other children get onto the boats but have no memory of doing so? Is the captain the preacher? This book really ...more
Chris Schaffer
It was a pretty cool book though the amount of focus on Adam the gorilla was a bit odd. The suspense definitely builds to the end. I found myself slightly frustrated as I didn't understand whether Joyce, Trina and the others survived or whether it was all some kind of dream and they actually did drink the kool aid. It was a nice treatment to the Jonestown nightmare.
Scott Shepard
Apr 28, 2018 rated it really liked it
Some stories are told best through a specific medium. For real life events what is the best medium? Is it a non-fiction timeline of events style book? Or a non-fiction “novel” like In Cold Blood? Movie? Podcast? What about a historical fiction novel?

Children of Paradise is none of these, not really. It’s historical fiction in the strictest sense; a novelized account of the events at Jonestown. But it’s somehow more than that. It’s not quite an exact retelling. It’s a fantastical account told in
Mar 16, 2017 rated it really liked it
In this imagined retelling of the 1978 mass suicide by the cult at Jonestown, Guyana, the author applies magical realism that conveys both the real horror and an imagined better outcome for at least some of the participants particularly the children. The author also introduces the pet gorilla of the preacher who is a symbol for the commune and also a character to whose thoughts we are privy. An outstanding and chilling story.
Roger Brunyate
Jul 17, 2016 rated it it was amazing
An Alternate View of Horror

Already in his narrative poem Bill of Rights, Fred D'Aguiar has explored the 1978 cult-suicide at Jonestown in his native Guyana, in which 909 members of the People's Temple were led to drink cyanide-laced Kool Aid under the aegis of their charismatic preacher, Jim Jones. Now he returns to it in novel form, lightly concealing the proper names, and offering an intimate viewpoint with a touch of magic realism thrown in. He assumes, I think, that his readers will know the
Nov 30, 2014 rated it liked it
Children of Paradise is the story of a mother and daughter caught in the deteriorating world of a religious commune. Trapped in a foreign country without access to their passports or money and surrounded by people who would jump at the chance to turn them in as deserters, they must try to navigate their way to freedom before the "Father" enacts his plan of mass suicide. Told from the perspective of Adam, a gorilla kept caged in the center of the commune, this is a chilling, emotionally tense sto ...more
May 12, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: arc, 2014
Eerily reminiscent of The People's Temple tragedy including a psycho leader at the helm, D���Aguiar takes the reader to the bowels of cult life in the deep fauna and flora of the sweltering jungle of Guyana.

No doubt I sampled life in a cult without having to actually join, thank goodness. The glimpse described was enough and from all accounts incredibly realistic. The dissension between followers and leader, downward spiral of mountebank leader, larder of cyanide - disturbing and frightening. T
Mar 04, 2014 rated it it was ok
Shelves: novels
An incident in life so disappointing and incomprehensible should be rewritten in some way that allows us to understand that, indeed, given certain circumstances this could have happened to anyone. Fred D'Aguiar's novel based on the Jonestown massacre, the mass suicide of almost a thousand people in Guyana, most of the victims poor and black, doesn't accomplish that. It does however present a thrilling story at the outset that keeps the reader wildly turning pages. I've struggled as a writer in t ...more
Feb 27, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Was somewhat pleasantly surprised by this book: it is not a straightforward account of the events at Jonestown that took place in November 1978. Rather it is a deeply touching story, even if, as explained by the author, it is a 'novel inspired by Jonestown'. I loved the exciting and masterful descriptions of the tropical jungle - you hear the sounds you read on the page - after all, the author is also a poet, and this latter fact came through at each turn of the story. (An example: Morning arriv ...more
Schuyler Wallace
May 03, 2015 rated it it was ok

Fred D’Aguiar in “Children of Paradise” is attempting to tell the story of the Jim Jones commune in Guyana. In some ways it’s interesting but it mostly falls flat for me because of his attempts to bring poetry to a story that resists poetic musicality.

The preacher, as the Jones inspired leader of the commune, performs sermons that mesmerize his followers and induces near catatonic disciples to follow his every command. The author does a good job of wording the sermons so even the reader can see
Eva Thieme
Jul 17, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This is one of the best books I've read this year. I won't go into the details of the story as other reviewers have sufficiently explained it, but I can tell you it is a gripping one. Bone-chilling and thought provoking, with traces of Lord of the Flies, Poisonwood Bible, and Mosquito Coast.

Loosely based on the Jonestown massacre (or mass suicide, depending on how you define it) in Guyana in the 1970s, it tells the story of a religious cult following a megalomaniac preacher to an utopia-turned-
An uncomfortable trek through an uncomfortable tale full of seemingly irrelevant God-praising filler. That being said, I finished of an urgency known only to those of frequent visits to the tales of suspense -- really edge-of-the-seat suspense. But I don't say this in an eager or drawn-in sense. It was suspenseful out of a kind of urgent necessity ... You know something terrible is coming, you just don't know when, and the need to find out either trumps your squeamishness or resistance to a fres ...more
Jun 10, 2014 rated it did not like it
Shelves: abandoned
A young girl is terrorized and mauled to death by a gorilla. Other children are watching. Her mother is devastated. Other people are shocked and horrified. A teenage boy turns his own mother in for disloyalty. A charismatic preacher resurrects the dead child before the eyes of his followers. They are amazed. The gorilla is sorry. I don't care.

Far too much tell and not enough show. The POV switching is choppy and I think the passive voice adds to the woodenness of the characters. The device of no
Jessica Woodbury
When you start your book from the perspective of a gorilla kept in a cage in the middle of a commune run by a radical religious sect, you definitely start with a bang.

Still, despite the subject matter, the prose is lovely and light. While I never quite understood the devotion of the people to their preacher, I doubt any writer could ever get me to see that somewhat unhinged point of view.

After such a delicate journey, the strange clashing ending didn't quite work for me. But I'd still recommen
Britt Call
This was a heavy book to get through. Children of Paradise is loosely based on the Jonestown deaths and the crazed lunatic that was Jim Jones. This was heartbreaking - you really get a grasp of how horrendous this could have ever been, physically, mentally, emotionally. The normal boundaries of life and relationships are tested and broken. People who rebel are killed.

Heavy shit. Won't be reading again.
Rhayna Kramer
Jan 07, 2014 rated it did not like it
Shelves: craptastic, dnf
DNF at 3%.

I hate not finishing books. I'm usually able to suffer through all or most of bad books, but I can't sit here and suffer through a poorly written book written in the third-person present. Books written like this sound more like the stage directions of a shoddy screenplay. I think I will just reread A Tree Grows in Brooklyn because it seems like no one can write a good book these days.
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Around the Year i...: Children of Paradise, by Fred D'Aguiar 1 7 Jul 25, 2018 02:32PM  

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Poet, novelist and playwright Fred D'Aguiar was born in London in 1960 to Guyanese parents. He lived in Guyana until he was 12, returning to England in 1972.

He trained as a psychiatric nurse before reading African and Caribbean Studies at the University of Kent, Canterbury, graduating in 1985. His first collection of poetry, Mama Dot (1985), was published to much acclaim and established his reputa
“A child screams with joy and a child screams with pain, and the difference is in the timbre of that scream. Decibels of joy strike the inner ear differently from those of pain.” 1 likes
“Any place where their thoughts are not allowed to stray is guarded by his voices steering them back to the permitted pastures. Any sadness or longing is immediately burned from the mind by the steady flame of his teachings in his voice. Sadness, depression, longings are luxuries. How can any sane mind be sad at the prospect of the kingdom of heaven, unless the sadness is merely impatience?” 1 likes
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