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  • Written by Elissa Elliott
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A Novel

Written by Elissa ElliottAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Elissa Elliott


List Price: $11.99


On Sale: January 27, 2009
Pages: 0 | ISBN: 978-0-440-33825-3
Published by : Delacorte Press Bantam Dell
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In this mesmerizing debut novel, Elissa Elliott blends biblical tradition with recorded history to put a powerful new twist on the story of creation’s first family. Here is Eve brought to life in a way religion and myth have never allowed–as a wife, a mother, and a woman. With stunning intimacy, Elliott boldly reimagines Eve’s journey before and after the banishment from Eden, her complex marriage to Adam, her troubled relationship with her daughters, and the tragedy that would overcome her sons, Cain and Abel. From a woman’s first awakening to a mother’s innermost hopes and fears, from moments of exquisite tenderness to a climax of shocking violence, Eve explores the very essence of love, womanhood, faith, and humanity.



I came upon my son's body by the river. The morning was no hotter or drier than usual, but as I crossed the plains between the house and the river, the wind kicked up the dust clouds, and I had to hold my robe over my nose. Dust clung to my wet face and marked the crooked trails of my tears. Behind me, the sky was the color of lettuce. The sand chafed my swollen feet, and my groin ached with the pains of Elazar's birth—was it just last evening I had borne him?—and my heart, oh, my heart's deep sorrow was for the travesty Cain had committed, then confessed to me like a blubbering child.

The body was not hard to find. The flies and vultures led me to him, fallen under the date palms, alongside the marshy river. His face was unrecognizable; Cain had seen to that. I don't remember if I was sad or grieving just then. I was more astonished than anything. I had seen animals killed, their throats slashed and their viscera splayed out on the ground, and certainly there were my babies who were lost. But nothing prepared me for the sight of Abel, my precious son, as still as a rock, his head bloodied and his neck arched back, stiff, at an unnatural angle. His eyes—I realize now that it was a miracle they had not yet been pecked out!—once full of his vigor and brooding and planning, were empty. They said nothing to me. Of course, Abel had said little to me ever since he took to the fields to tend his goats and sheep, but that is no matter. He was still my favorite. Is a mother permitted to say such things about her children?

I fell to my knees and threw my body over his. I lifted his head, cold and broken, to my breast, and cradled him there, as I had done so often when he was a baby. Fresh tears refused to come, which was strange. It was as though I had been thrown out of the Garden once again, rejected and abandoned, and, as only Adam can testify, they flowed like a river then. And where was Adam, my husband? Did he not care about our son, the one kissed by Elohim for his magnificent sacrifice? Or had Adam's deafness prevented him from hearing my anguished cries when Cain told me what he had done?

Softly, I sang the Garden song into my dead son's ear. I knew he would hear it, wherever he had gone off to. He had been the only one to understand its message and allure.

Abel's flesh was cold and clammy, and all I could remember was the vision of loveliness he was as a child—soft chubby skin folds and eyes only for me. He was the first to bring me gifts—poppies and ranunculus and clover, discarded feathers, and pebbles worn smooth by the river and carried down from the mountains. Cain would not have thought of it. He was too busy traipsing after his father—digging, planting, terracing, and experimenting with anything green.

What sorrow there is in having children! At first, they tickle your heartstrings. They linger for your words, clutch at your skirts, feed on your breath, and then one day they lurch to the edge of the nest and flutter out. They never return, and the empty space yawns impatiently, demanding more. It is a never-ending ache, one that I continued to fill as long as I was able.

The vultures hissed at me and made loud chuffing noises. They spread their mighty wings and danced about.

"Get!" I shouted, half rising and waving my arms.

They did not budge.

Where was my Abel? Where had he gone? Was he wandering somewhere, looking for his mother? I wondered if he would weep at not finding me. I remembered Elohim's words to Adam and me, "For you are dust, and to dust you shall return," but still, I did not believe it, did not want to believe it. What good were our lives if, in the end, we simply returned to earthly particles?

To make sense of this tragedy, I shall have to go back to the beginning of that hot summer, preceded by the spring harvest and sheep plucking, when our family's unraveling began. Unfortunately, it is always in hindsight that we see our mistakes, like a wrong color in the loom or a foreign stalk in our fields, but by doing so, I try to account for my life and change that which I can. It provides a bit of solace.

Imagine then: The sun hung low and orange on the horizon, and Naava, my eldest daughter at fourteen years, was lighting lamps in the courtyard. There was the usual bustle of the men coming in from the fields—Adam, my husband, from the orchards and Cain, our eldest son, from plowing. Adam, his robes caked with dirt and sweat, hung his arms across my shoulders and squeezed. "Wife," he said, pecking me on the cheek. "How is my woman?" He said this laughing, as though he had said the most humorous thing, and I grinned back, glad of his presence.

"Your woman is exceptional," I said.

On this particular occasion, Abel was absent. Frequently, he claimed that sleeping among his flocks gave him solitude and peace. Even after Jacan's discovery that morning.

Jacan, my youngest son, had been trembling when he returned at dawn from collecting water at the cistern. We could barely make out his words—he was gulping in so much air. "Lion tracks," he said. "This big." His little arms stretched wide, and his fingers tried to frame a large circle in the air. "Abel," he said. "You should stay here today."

Abel had laughed and ruffled Jacan's hair. "Who will kill the lion if I sit at home?"

Jacan's eyes grew as round as onions, and he stared at Abel. "It's a big one," he said, doubtful that Abel understood.

Our tools and weapons hung on our courtyard wall—adzes, sickles, scythes, hoes, throwing spears, daggers, and bows and arrows. It was to this wall that Abel went. He reached up for a slingshot and a bag of clay pellets. He turned to Jacan and said solemnly, "My aim will be true the first time." And towheaded Jacan went to him and hugged the huge trees of Abel's legs, Jacan's arms seeming so frail to me, like vines trying to find purchase. Oh, how I wanted to grab both of my sons and hold them tight!

Now, the long day over, the purple-gray evening skies pressed in from all sides. Inside the waist-high clay walls of the courtyard, moths and flies were drawn to the flames and danced shadows upon our faces. Aya, my crippled middle daughter, ladled meat into wooden bowls and plucked hot and steaming flat bread from the walls of the tinžru. I smiled to watch her kiss each piece of bread before she placed it on a platter. It was something she had always done from the time she was small and just learning to cook. I asked her about it once, and she said, "But, Mother, all things must be blessed. You said so yourself that Elohim blessed each thing He made." It was true. I had told her that, although I was beginning to doubt there was a personal Elohim who enjoyed my company. That had been a truth for the Garden, something sweetly shared between Adam and me.

Dara and Jacan were in their seventh year. As the sun slipped over the plain's flat edge, Jacan came running in from the river, knees churning, shouting, "Dara, Dara, Dara!" as though he were mad. He carried a box turtle from the marsh, and although I was convinced he had squashed it in his hand in his eagerness to show Dara, it was still alive and moving when he gave it to her. She squealed, of course, then grew morose when the turtle refused to poke its head out. "Mama," she cried. "Do something!"

I told her to be patient. "The turtle is probably frightened," I said. "Wouldn't you be too, if someone was throwing you about?"

So they hovered, squatted down on their haunches, and waited for the turtle's glorious head to emerge in the twilight. Such is the life of small children! It never failed to delight me, watching them involved with a task so simple, yet they remained so wonderfully curious and happy.

I do not recall what my family talked about that night as we filled our bellies, but I do remember what it was that made us all stop talking. There was a sharp cry in the distance, then a thud. To the north, maybe. Cain was the first to scramble up, because Adam, who was deaf in his left ear, hadn't heard. I'm sure we all looked like baby birds, mouths open, food suspended, for a moment, waiting, waiting, for another noise. What could it be?

"Father," Cain cried, as he rushed to the courtyard wall and disappeared into the edges of night.

Adam, accustomed to this disconnection between his inner and outer world, took his cue from Cain. He jumped to his feet, setting down his bowl. He reached for my hand and held it for a moment. "Stay," he said to us, and then he, too, was through the courtyard gate.

I daresay his command was ignored. Naava had a nose for adventure and for everything else out-there, a desire I could never quite understand. It was a compulsion that neither of my other girls seemed to possess. She rose, and though I called sharply, "Naava, wait," she dashed out too and vanished.

"What is it, Mama?" said Dara.

"The lion!" said Jacan, yanking on Dara's arm, then looking at me, fear solid in his eyes. "Abel!"

Aya's voice was calm and contemptuous. She had no time for silly conjectures. "Abel is in the hills. How could we hear his voice from here?"

Jacan's face registered confusion for a moment, then he rallied. "Maybe he was on his way home because he was lonely, and the lion attacked him." He turned to me. "Father will save him, right?"
I waved his worries aside and began collecting the bowls to scour with sand, but Jacan's words gave me goose skin. What would happen if I lost my son?

I tended a small collection of burial mounds in the garden that Adam had planted for me—a son whom I had borne before his time, a daughter with a malformed head, and another daughter who had emerged, dead, with knots in her cord—but this was different. Abel was a grown man, with curls of hair on his chest and a gruff voice and somber moods. He did not belong in the ground, away from his family, silent, covered with dirt and thistle and mesquite.

Because I have given life to each of my children, I love each one. Cain—for his ingenuity. Abel—for his sweet ways. Naava—for her feistiness. Aya—for her resourcefulness. Jacan—for his tender heart. Dara—for her compassion. But in times like these, a mother's mind flashes to—oh, think me not cruel!—whom of her children she would most like to hold fast, if given the choice. Although I strive to treat each equally, my heart cannot be led like Abel's sheep. It is stubborn and goes where it likes. I do not find any solace in this truth; in fact, it causes me much turmoil.

My love comes in shades of color. There is a bright pulsing red, and there is a weakly washed pink. I do not know why; I only know that it is so.

So, truth be told, it would have been Cain I would have sacrificed, if I had been forced to choose. Cain always grappled for his significance with the universe, his superiority over all of us, even his disgust with us. It was as though he were made in the starry heavens yet housed in a fragile warm shell that was susceptible to injury and ache and decay, and the frustration for him was too much.
As a child, Cain tortured and killed frogs, birds, and lizards. He baited the ducks at the river by hooking a bit of bread and waiting for an unfortunate one to pluck at the morsel and swallow it. He sliced open their throats, then cut them apart, determined to find out what made them breathe or walk or fly.

Everything was a torment when they were boys, even such a small thing as splitting a pomegranate between him and Abel.

"You've given him more," Cain would squeal in fury.

"Here's a bit more then, from mine," I would say, and give him another section.

"I want it from his!" Cain would say between clenched teeth.

"That's enough," I would say.

From Abel, there was nary an unkind word or threatening look.

He was a summer rain.

That night, I quelled a gasp in my throat. Not Abel, please not Abel, I prayed. I prayed to the One who had formed us in the Garden, the One whom I had talked with there, and the One whom I did not believe cared for me anymore.

The reason I prayed was simple: I prayed to Him because it was the only thing I could do. True, my energy was irrational and ill-founded, but nonetheless I invoked Elohim my Creator.

Hear my cry, O Elohim, and give heed to my prayer. I shall shout Your praises to the sky. Let me not be ashamed.

And so it came to pass that, as I prayed, the winds of my heart blew no more. It was quiet, and I sat to hear what He would say to me.

His words never came.


Eve closes her eyes and rests. She's been holding her head up this whole time, straining to make herself heard. Her hair is white now, splayed out like a sun-bleached starfish upon her pillow. 

Naava places a cool cloth on her mother's forehead. "Shhh," she says. "Lie back." She stares at Eve's face, the bear-clawed scars on her right cheek, the irregular brown spots on her hands and arms, the deep lines in the skin around her eyes and lips, and the frown cracks between her eyebrows. Naava wonders why her mother is so dramatic, so wrong about the past. Is it possible that two people can experience the same thing and come away with two different stories?

Naava takes Eve's hand, knobbed like a piece of gingerroot. She traces the swollen rivers of blood in Eve's veins, shutting them off, then letting them rush forth under the skin. She remembers: sitting with Aya and the younger children by the pond, under the shade of Eve's beloved Garden of Eden tree, telling Eve's stories to one another in the heat of the afternoon, while the asps warmed themselves and the bees buzzed above their heads. They played the parts—the serpent, Eve, Adam, even the cherubim and the wavering lights. Once, Aya insisted they all chant to Elohim, asking that they be able to return to the Garden, to see where their mother and father had come from. Elohim answered in a breeze; His words sounded singsongy and soft. What's done is done, my children. His swift reply only encouraged Aya in her attempts at further conversation; it did the opposite for Naava. Naava was petrified. Voices should come out of people, not out of thin air. Really, she wasn't even quite sure she'd heard anything at all.

Naava felt this: Eve knew so little of what had happened because she saw only what she wanted to see and loved only what she wanted to love. She herself had said this in so many words, hadn't she?

From the Hardcover edition.
Elissa Elliott|Author Q&A

About Elissa Elliott

Elissa Elliott - Eve
Elissa Elliott is a former high school teacher. She is a contributing writer to Books & Culture and has optioned her first screenplay. She and her husband, Daniel Elliott, live in Minnesota. This is her first novel.

Author Q&A

Seth’s Story
Elissa Elliott

 It is exceedingly difficult to be the favored child. Not only do I have to soothe Mother when she gets upset or has misunderstood something, but I have to negotiate the bitterness and jealousy of my siblings, younger and older. This is no small task. I did not ask for this role (for we all play roles, don’t we, in our families?). Mother has made it no secret that I am the child sent by Elohim as a replacement for Abel, the son she lost by Cain’s hand, and there’s no avoiding it. My very name means “appointed.” We’ve all heard the story of that summer, repeated it until we can recite what each person said and did, although I will say it is a difficult story to follow when everyone is present, due to their vastly different views of the same event. How can that be? 

From what I’ve heard from my older siblings, I grew up with different parents than they did. They describe Mother and Father as preoccupied, vengeful, and untrusting—strict and unyielding—and I want to know where those parents went, because my parents have been only attentive and loving to me—more relaxed, less intervening. I was taught from the time I could talk that Elohim is the one true god and that He deserves our love and devotion. Where is the angst and quandary that Aya describes? Where is the meanness that Naava speaks of? Dara might be the only one who has forgiven them for trading her services with the city. She’s always said, “It worked out for the best. See? I learned a great many things. And now I’m well taken care of by my saffron merchant!” I’ve only met Jacan twice, and he’s not one to ruminate over the past. The time I saw him down by the city’s wharf, unkempt and agitated, he told me gruffly, “Our parents were blind to the anger stirring between Cain and Abel. We all knew that they would kill each other, given the chance. I wish they had sent Cain away sooner. Do you know what Abel told me, even when I was yay high? He said, ‘Jacan, Cain’s been trying to kill me for years.’ ” He leaned forward slightly and said, “You’ve heard the cistern story, right?” I nodded. He seemed to think we’d come to some agreement then—that I understood completely. But I didn’t. Why did Abel incite Cain’s wrath with the sacrifices? Why attempt a contest to see whose offerings would be accepted? Abel must have wanted to emerge a victor, or at least rub Cain’s face in it. 

The one person missing from all the recountings has been Cain. I’ve not met him yet—he’s kept his distance—but I intend to search for him one day, to hear his side of the story. I cannot imagine the beast that my siblings describe, being a firm believer that a person must be riled up in order to do such vile things. To have killed a brother—flesh and blood—is an unspeakable sin, I know, but I cannot think that Abel did nothing to aggravate him, as perfect as Mother and Aya suggest he was. I asked Aya once how I compared to Abel, since Mother has seen fit to slip me into that coveted spot. Do you know what she said? “Seth, Mother has a warped view of everything. She sees only what she wants to see”—here she paused briefly, then went on—“although she’s getting better. Abel was, truly, a special person, so gentle and loving. He was distant in a way, but I think that was because he didn’t know what to do with Mother’s attentions. He was shy.” She laid her hand on my arm. “He questioned a considerable amount, but he would not let Mother see it, because she would have glommed on to him even more. You, little brother, are a lamb. You believe what you’re told, and you trust without question that Elohim is the one true god—” 

“But He is,” I said. “He made Mother and Father. He brought us safely to this land. He protects us, sustains us.” I didn’t understand her flippant regard for the possibility that Elohim might not be who Mother and Father say He is. 

“I know, darling,” she said. “I believe, too, but perhaps not in the same way you do. You were always so insightful when you were little. You lost some of that as you got older. Do you remember asking me about the fruit?” 

I shook my head. 

“You asked me, ‘If Elohim didn’t want Mother and Father to eat the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, why did He put it in the Garden?’ ” She smiled. “You see? You had all the same questions we did. We just couldn’t answer them for you.” 

I remembered. I just realized, early on, that my questions were not going to be answered satisfactorily and went on living.

 There’s a sort of terror that builds in a person, though, when he’s been set apart for something different than his siblings as I have. Mother and Father have not stated it in so many words, but I feel as though they expect grander things of me—that I am to be an example to all the others. They treat me differently, ask my opinion, and trust my instincts, in ways they don’t with their other children. I’ve grown up increasingly fearful that I will fail them, displease them. I’ve not slept a solid night in years. When my older siblings blithely state that I have it easy, I want to scream and tell them, “No, I pay for it every night of dark worry. You don’t know.” But how can I explain it to them? They only see our parents’ attentions, their acquiescence, their favoritism, and assume it’s a good thing. 

And just as I wonder at my family’s past, I wonder about our future. Will Elohim ever return and show His face? Will He reward those of us who are seeking to do good on this weary earth of His? Will He hear our daily cries for mercy and set His face favorably toward us, so that we might see Him more clearly? Or are there more disasters on the horizon? 

I am to be married soon, to a girl from the city—Radjni, Dara’s best friend. She is the daughter of a metal worker, and one of us, a believer in Elohim. I’ve been apprenticed to her father for several years now in exchange for her hand in marriage, and when my craftmanship was recently deemed excellent enough, her father clapped me on the back and said, “Welcome to our family, son. All I have is yours.” He grinned. “As well as my daughter.” She has a calming effect on me, a peaceful way of moving and speaking that I gravitate toward. When I first met her, I found her plain in the face, but since I’ve spent more time with her, I’ve found her increasingly beautiful. Behind those light eyes are kindness and laughter, and she regales me with stories of growing up in a motherless home, which you might think one would find daunting, but which she found to be adventurous. 

I will be grateful to leave my home and become one with my wife. We shall start our own family. We shall worship Elohim and pray to Him on a daily basis. I will not have to worry about acting as a liaison anymore—or a favorite son—except when I receive word Mother and Father are coming for a visit, and I know I will find it difficult not to return to the boy I am around them. It’s impossible not to.



Eve is a beautiful novel, richly imagined. Elissa Elliott has written about Eve in such a new way, and by exploring her heart, conflicts, desires, and choices, she illuminates our own. I loved the intimate tone, and although I know how the story goes, I found myself reading on the edge of my seat. This novel is irresistible, and if it were an apple, I would have to eat it.”—New York Times bestselling author Luanne Rice

"Eve is an enchanting novel, rich with emotion and power.  Elliott's masterful prose brilliantly brings an ancient world to vibrant life.  A truly remarkable debut, thought provoking and intriguing."—India Edghill, author of The Queenmaker and Wisdom’s Daughter: A Novel of Solomon and Sheba

“Elliott has crafted a powerful story, beautifully told, of a family in crisis. Her voice is sure, her prose lyrical, her characters memorable.”—Jeanne Kalogridis, author of I, Mona Lisa and The Borgia Brides

“Elissa Elliott's debut is Biblical fiction at its absolute best. Like Anita Diamant and Marek Halter, Elliott reaches across the millennia to embrace a woman whose story has never fully been told. A thought-provoking and gripping read, Elliott has triumphed with her wholly original Eve: A Novel of the First Woman.”—Michelle Moran, author of Nefertiti and The Heretic Queen

“In this novel hauntingly beautiful poetic language, a powerful imagination and extensive scholarship combine. Together they weave tender love and dark passions, suspense and drama into a richly textured, colorful and strikingly beautiful tapestry. Eve is an intense and fascinating read that will keep you spellbound until the last engrossing page.”—Eva Etzioni-Halvey, author of The Song of Hannah, The Garden of Ruth, and The Triumph of Deborah

“An imaginative and deeply felt debut … Exotic setting aside, this could be any contemporary family plagued by a manic-depressive son, a sulky teenager and a father who is shockingly deficient in the wisdom expected…. Highly original.”—Kirkus Reviews

"Put[s] a definite female spin on the familiar saga....Readers who loved Anita Diamant’s The Red Tent will welcome this fresh addition to the biblicalfiction genre."—Booklist

"Drawing on scholarly studies of Genesis, Judaism and Mesopotamia, and written in the easy-to-read style of The Red Tent and Queenmaker, Elissa Elliott's first novel offers a fresh and insightful vision of the life of the first women.... Raises spiritual questions about free will, creation and the human relationship with God."—Associated Press

"You won't stop turning the pages."—USA Today

From the Hardcover edition.
Discussion Questions

Discussion Guides

1. If you grew up in a religious setting and knew the story of the Garden of Eden before reading this novel, did Elohim [God] appear different than you expected Him to? In what way? Do you think it is valuable to look upon Him as male and female?

 2. Eve had no female role model as women do today. Who might have been her role model? How might she have figured out what she was supposed to do? 

3. Each of the sisters plays a certain role in the family. Aya is the precocious, eleven-year-old food gatherer and healer. Naava is the selfabsorbed teenage weaver. Dara is the confused six-year-old who cares for the neighboring city’s youngest. How are these girls like or unlike girls you’ve known? Are their struggles similar to the struggles of girls today? How? 

4. Eve steals seeds from the Tree of Life in the Garden of Eden. What significance do the seeds play? Why does Eve think they can save her?

 5. Why do you think Elohim honored Abel’s sacrifice over Cain’s? Was it Elohim that sent the streak of fire from the sky or coincidence? 

6. Doubt is a vital part of the story. What part does doubt play in faith? How much doubt can you express before you’re labeled a heretic? 

7.What do you think the city symbolizes for Cain? For Naava? Why are they so drawn to it? How will it save or ruin them? 

8. The subtitle says that Eve was the first woman, but in the book Eve’s family runs into an already burgeoning city. Do you believe Eve was the first woman, or the first Hebrew woman, or part of a great many people that were created (all at once or over time)? Why? 

9. Right before Elohim throws Adam and Eve out of the Garden, He explains why He must do so: It’s because He’s afraid they will eat of the Tree of Life and live forever. If the Tree of Life is a sort of antidote to the “poison” of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, why wouldn’t He give it to them? And is there something He’s withholding from us today? 

10. Aya struggles with understanding what prayer is. She doesn’t hear anything. She doesn’t know what to ask. Have you felt the same way? Do you pray, and if so, how? What is prayer to you? 

11. How does the Sumerian culture of the city affect Eve’s family? What issues arise because of it? 

12. If you know the story of Job, you’ll know that God allowed Satan to make him ill and destroy his family. Do you think God and Lucifer had the same agreement with Eve? Why or why not? 

13. Are the dysfunctions of the first family like your own? Unlike your own? How? 

14. Did your opinions of Eve, Aya, Naava, and Dara shift throughout the novel? Did the women do anything to surprise you, and if so, what? 

15.We see the men of the story only through the women’s eyes. What questions would you like to have asked of Adam, Cain, Abel, and Jacan? How do you think they’d have responded?

 16. Have you ever met a sort of “Lucifer” in your own life? What happened and how did it affect you? 

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