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The Great Fire


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About the Author

Shirley Hazzard is the author of Greene on Capri, a memoir of Graham Greene, as well as several works of fiction, including The Transit of Venus, a Virago Modern Classic. She won the 1981 National Book Critics' Circle Award and divides her time between New and Capri.


A new novel from Hazzard is a literary event. It's been two decades between the publication of The Transit of Venus and this magnificent book, but her burnished prose has not diminished in luster nor has her wisdom about the human condition. Two men who have survived WWII and are now enduring the soiled peace, and one 17-year-old woman who has suffered beyond her years, are the characters around whom this narrative revolves. Aldred Leith, 32, the son of a famous novelist and the winner of a military medal for heroism, has come to postwar Japan to observe the conditions there for a book he's writing on the consequences of war within an ancient society. In an idyllic setting above the city of Kure, near Hiroshima, he meets teenaged Helen Driscoll and her terminally ill brother, Ben, who are the poetic children of a loathsome Australian army major and his harridan wife. Leith is drawn to the siblings, who live vicariously in classic literature, and he soon realizes that he's in love with Helen, despite the difference in their ages. Meanwhile, Leith's close friend Peter Exley, who interrogates Japanese war criminals in Hong Kong, faces a decision about what to do with the rest of his life. He dreams of becoming an art historian, but he lacks the courage to make a clean break from the law. When he suddenly acts rashly, the outcome is dreadfully ironic. The leitmotif here is the need for love to counteract the vile wind of history that breeds loss and dislocation. Hazzard writes gently, tenderly, yet with fierce knowledge of how a dearth of love can render lives meaningless. The purity of her sentences, each one resonant with implication, create an effortless flow. This is a quiet book, but one that carries portents well beyond its time and place, suggesting the disquieting state of our current world. (Oct.) Forecast: A certain generation of readers who know Hazzard's work will buy this book with alacrity. Widespread review coverage should generate additional attention. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.

In Hazzard's magisterial new work-her first novel since the award-winning Transit of Venus in 1980-the "great fire" (World War II) has already swept the world. In its wake we find Aldred Leith, raised in the Far East by a brilliant Orientalist father and distant mother from whom he is now estranged. Having served in the war and then literally walked across China, Leith arrives in Japan to join the British community managing the Occupation. Death still haunts him-there's the suicide of a servant, for instance, and the fatal illness of Benedict, a young man in the family with whom he is staying-and in fact clearly nothing will be the same after this fire burns itself out. But like those around him, Leith struggles to right himself (partly through his love, initially thwarted, of Ben's sister, Helen), and in the end he finds "a sense of deliverance." This is still a dark book, however; the unease is pervasion. Writing in prose that is restrained and well modulated but freighted with meaning, Hazzard delivers a powerful sense of one generation's loss and of the way we must all cope when the road we take doesn't double back. Highly recommended. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 6/15/03.]-Barbara Hoffert, "Library Journal" Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.

'I wish there were a set of words like 'brilliant' and 'dazzling' that we saved for only the rarest occasions, so that when I tell you THE GREAT FIRE is brilliant and dazzling you would know it is the absolute truth. This is a book that is worth a twenty-year wait.' --Ann Patchett, author of BEL CANTO'Shirley Hazzard has written an hypnotic novel that unfolds like a dream: Japan, Southeast Asia, the end of one war and the beginning of another, the colonial order gone, and at the center of it all, a love story.' - Joan Didion'Shirley Hazzard is, purely and simply, one of the greatest writers working in English today. Which makes me more than grateful to have this long-hoped for new novel.' Michael Cunningham'The Great Fire is a brilliant, brave and sublimely written novel that allows the literate reader the consolation of having touched infinity . This wonderful book, which must be read at least twice simply to savour Hazzard s sentences and set-pieces, is among the most transcendent works I ve ever had the pleasure of reading.' - Anita Shreve a quiet and exquisitely crafted novel the most interesting work of fiction published this year - The Economist this is a book with a mature, complex voice - Helen Rumbelow, The Times wonderful stuff - Sunday Express a fascinating read, showing us a past that is unbearably alive, almost immanent - Rachel Cus

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