Book One of the Mexican Eden Trilogy
By Sylvia Montgomery Shaw
Against the backdrop of the Mexican Revolution, an imprisoned officer relives past loves and confronts present demons. Read more
Paperback and e-book, 304 pages
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I knew the secret as a child before anyone else did—that God planted the Garden of Eden just seventy-five kilometers south of Mexico City, near the town of Cuernavaca. He scattered seeds so only the most colorful flowers and the best climbing trees would grow in that semitropical paradise. He filled the stables with the fastest, strongest Arabians; mother’s aviary with more birds than anywhere else in the world. Then he constructed a wall twice as tall as Father and encircled our Eden to keep it safe. We named the garden the Hacienda of San Serafin. I swore that I would spend the rest of my life there, where nothing bad ever happens . . .
Captain Benjamín Nyman Vizcarra, son of the wealthiest man in Mexico, has everything a young man could want. But in the days leading up to the Mexican Revolution of 1910, he finds himself questioning whether he can support the old regime—and more and more distracted by his brother’s bewitching fiancee, Isabel. Setting out to expose her as a gold-digger, he instead falls deeply in love, setting himself on a path that leads to war, poverty, and alienation from his family.
Accused and convicted of his father’s murder after a fateful late-night encounter, Benjamín faces his inner demons, beginning a process that Swedenborg describes as regeneration. As he plots escape with a fellow prisoner, a Tarahumara Indian known only as El Brujo, he relives his love affair and eventual marriage to Isabel. A new question begins to form: will he run, or will he stay to confront his mistakes and win back the woman he loves?
“What a compelling read this is, and so satisfying: a story of a man becoming free, a spiritual love story with all the tension of a thriller and a plot of mistaken identities worthy of Shakespeare.”
—Linda Proud, author of The Botticelli Trilogy
“Paradise Misplaced, Sylvia Shaw’s first novel, challenges readers to consider what the loss of Eden (which she places in Mexico) has meant to the world. She leads us through a moral landscape that is not necessarily new to us but newly imagined. The Mexican Revolution acts as the background to this novel of star-crossed lovers that recasts, however obliquely, the tale of the consequences of uncovering truth, and all that that, good and bad, can bring. In her pellucid and engaging prose, Shaw insists that we re-examine the hurried judgments we make about others. Only then, when thinking and compassion become one, as Milton would have it, ‘over wrath shall grace abound.'”
—Professor Meg Tyler, Boston University
“As justice seems lost, one man must drive to make the difference. Paradise Misplaced is the first book of Sylvia Montgomery Shaw’s trilogy surrounding the Mexican Revolution. Benjamin Nyman Vizcarra finds himself wrongly accused and imprisoned, faced with a serious decision to run away from it all, or fight to prove his innocence and claim the woman he loves. Paradise Misplaced is an excellent and much recommended pick for historical fiction collections.”
—Wisconsin Bookwatch, March 2012
“Sylvia Montgomery Shaw, a Mexican-born American writer and scholar, sharply wraps this fascinating tale of a dysfunctional upper-class Mexican family around the Catholic Church, the Swedenborg Church, and turn-of-the-century Mexican history. Within the context of this work of historical fiction, Paradise Misplaced is the title of a book of ornithology penned as a cover for a personal memoir by Captain Benjamín Nyman Vizcarra, a sly and well-educated, well-bred, handsome young rebel incarcerated in 1911. Crazy Mexican and American characters spanning several generations are woven together like the blankets used to saddle the horses they ride on. Shaw’s wit shines through the fascinating family members, the unforeseen circumstances they find themselves trapped in, and the unbelievable outcomes. Throughout the story, Shaw spares no expense in her rich descriptions of Mexico City and the surrounding areas at the time leading up to the Mexican Revolution. The sweet ornithology theme permeates the entire story. Paradise Misplaced has a lyrical quality to the writing, leading the reader into the depths of each character’s life and retelling rich Mexican history through the eyes of Benjamin, a bold, cocky character who risks all for the love of his life.”
—Allyson Gracie, Wellness Specialist, Retailing Insight Online Reviews
“In the days leading up to the Mexican revolution of 1910, Captain Benjamín Nyman Vizcarra stands trial for his father’s murder. Benjamín’s father had once been the wealthiest man in Mexico, but a drastic change to a monastic life had caused a serious rift between the older man and the rest of his family. After being convicted and sent to prison, and after surviving a brutal beating, Benjamín begins to try to make sense out of all that has happened. He had parted with his beloved wife Isabel in a fit of violent anger, and he begins to write out a memoir as a way to both sort things out in his own mind and to express agonized regret to Isabel. As the memoir unfolds, we learn about Benjamín’s past. We learn of episodes of assuming the identity of his twin brother; of a growing, passionate love for the woman who was at first engaged to his older brother; of a draw to join the rebels of the Mexican revolution, despite his mother’s disapproval; and of the pain and anger he suffered at his father’s rejection of the family. This is the story of a man examining his life, and deciding when to run away and when to stay and confront his mistakes. And into the narrative come surprising little mentions of Isabel’s Swedenborgian background along with references to the time she spent at school in Bryn Athyn, Pennsylvania along with friends such as Emmaline Synnestvedt! Sylvia Shaw teaches at Bryn Athyn College, and this is her first publication with the Swedenborg Foundation. Shaw’s characters are intriguing, set against a rich and colorful background. I look forward to the rest of the trilogy, and to finding out what happens next in the saga of Benjamin and Isabel.”
—Karin Childs, head of the Oak Arbor Church bookroom
“Through Shaw’s poetic prose and gifted storytelling, Benjamin past and present comes to vivid, unquestionable life. Her use of magic realism, languid prose, and vivid details make delightfully compelling what for other writers could be a plodding narrative…Though designed to be only the first part of Benjamin’s and the Nyman family’s story, Paradise Misplaced can stand alone. Through Benjamin, Shaw takes readers into the streets, homes, and minds of those who lived in turbulent twentieth-century Mexico. Like the novel overall, the ending is satisfying, though as Shaw, herself a Mexican-American, teases in an afterward: “the revolution is far from over.”
—Cindy Wolfe Boynton for ForeWord Review, March 15, 2012.
“As the son of the wealthiest man in Mexico, Captain Benjamín Nyman can have it all. And, in the days leading up to the Mexican Revolution of 1910, it seems he does, a commission in the army, a devoted family, and an assured place in society, but the things he wants his brother’s fiancé Isabel and a chance to fight in the revolution are things that money cannot buy. His mother firmly supports the current regime and, just as ardently, dislikes Isabel, who she sees as a manipulative fortune hunter. She takes drastic steps to keep Benjamín away from both Isabel and the revolutionaries. He’s not to be put down, though, and sets off on a path that has him questioning family, status, and politics. But one fateful night sets off a series of events that lead to an accusation of murder and imprisonment. Caged, Benjamín thinks back on his life and mistakes. When he’s offered a shot at freedom again, he wonders whether atonement is better found outside or within. Paradise Misplaced is a beautifully written book set in a time and place I know little about. Shaws research into the era is evident. Multi-layered characters move through the lush landscape of Mexican sugar plantations. The story is quiet, complex, and emotional. My one qualm with Paradise Misplaced is that it was not complete as a novel. Its the first in a planned trilogy, and many questions and motivations remained unresolved at the end. Despite the mystery plot, this is first and foremost a character-driven story, and I would gladly turn to the next book in the series to reconnect with the same characters, cliffhanger or not. I would have liked to see the mystery aspect wrapped up in a satisfying conclusion.”
—Reviewed by Jessica Brockmole for Historical Novels Review, May 2012