The great fire /

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Main Author: Hazzard, Shirley, 1931-
Format: Book
Language:English
Published:New York : Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2003.
Edition:1st ed.
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Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

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. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Kirkus Book Review

Hazzard painstakingly constructs a compact panorama of a world ravaged by war, in her expert fourth novel--and first since the NBCC Award winner, The Transit of Venus (1980). The story opens in 1947 when Major Aldred Leith, a 32-year-old combat veteran and prison camp survivor, travels to a military compound on an island in Japan's Inland Sea, preparatory to a "tour" of Hiroshima, one of several sites he's compelled to write about, and understand. Housed with the family of an intemperate Brigadier, Aldred finds himself drawn to the latter's adolescent children: beautiful, reserved Helen, and her almost ethereal brother Benedict, who is wasting away from a pernicious paralytic disease. Hazzard very gradually layers in revealing details of Aldred's family background (as the basically unloved son of a successful romance novelist), complicated sexual and marital history, and increasingly disillusioning military experiences. And, in dexterously handled parallel narratives, she traces the fortunes of other deracinated and stricken people ("Everyone has a cruel story"): notably, Aldred's Australian soldier friend Peter Exley, assigned to Hong Kong to investigate allegations of Japanese war crimes. The irony of "conquest" is expressed with matchless clarity and grace, as military idealism reaps what it has sown, Aldred stoically bears scars inflicted by "the great fire into which his times had pitched him," things fall clamorously apart, and several "heroes" and "rescuers" recognize the bitter truth of the "Chinese maxim whereby one becomes responsible for the life one saves." And all this is communicated in a chiseled prose that makes the pages shimmer, many shaped with the concentrated intensity of poetry. Except for a very slightly improbable ending, this almost indescribably rich story (which will remind many of Michael Ondaatje's The English Patient) moves from strength to strength, and no reader will be unmoved by its sorrowing, soaring eloquence. One of the finest novels ever written about war and its aftermath, and well worth the 23-year wait. Copyright ©Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

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