The year is 1947. The great fire of the Second World War has convulsed Europe and Asia. In its wake, Aldred Leith, an acclaimed hero of the conflict, has spent two years in China at work on an account of world-transforming change there. Son of a famed and sexually ruthless novelist, Leith begins to resist his own self-sufficiency, nurtured by war. Peter Exley, another veteran and an art historian by training, is prosecuting war crimes committed by the Japanese. Both men have narrowly escaped death in battle, and Leith saved Exley's life. The men have maintained long-distance friendship in a postwar loneliness that haunts them both, and which has swallowed Exley whole. Now in their thirties, with their youth behind them and their world in ruins, both must invent the future and retrieve a private humanity.
Arriving in Occupied Japan to record the effects of the bomb at Hiroshima, Leith meets Benedict and Helen Driscoll, the Australian son and daughter of a tyrannical medical administrator. Benedict, at twenty, is doomed by a rare degenerative disease. Helen, still younger, is inseparable from her brother. Precocious, brilliant, sensitive, at home in the books they read together, these two have been, in Leith's words, delivered by literature. The young people capture Leith's sympathy; indeed, he finds himself struggling with his attraction to this girl whose feelings are as intense as his own and from whom he will soon be fatefully parted.
A deeply observed story of love and separation, of disillusion and recovered humanity, The Great Fire marks the much-awaited return to fiction of an author whose novel The Transit of Venus won the National Book Critics Circle Award and, twenty years after its publication, is considered a modern classic.
A book that rewards the slow and thoughtful reader as the somewhat ephemeral writing style needs to be absorbed, and the nuances considered, before turning each and every page.
The Washington Post - Howard Norman
Shirley Hazzard's stunning new novel, The Great Fire, is set largely in Asia in 1947-48, but the ravages of war are very much at its heart … Shirley Hazzard has gifted us, in The Great Fire, a novel of indispensable happiness and sorrow. I loved this novel beyond dreams.
The New York Times - John Banville
Although it is set in the still smoldering aftermath of war, The Great Fire is an altogether softer thing than its predecessor. In its dreamy solemnity and vague exactitudes, it is reminiscent of The English Patient...When the narrative leaves love to one side and concerns itself with depicting a world and a time in chaos, it rises to heights far, far above the barren plain where most of contemporary fiction makes its tiny maneuvers.
Booklist - Brad Hooper
Despite this Australian writer's absence from the world's fiction stage--since the 1981 publication of The Transit of Venus, which earned her great acclaim, including the National Book Critics' Circle Award--her readers have continued to hold hands in devotion and anticipation..... this novel of war's aftermath becomes a story of love--or more to the point, of the restoration of the capacity for love once global and personal trauma have been shed.
This is a quiet book, but one that carries portents well beyond its time and place, suggesting the disquieting state of our current world.
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).... 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.
Library Journal - Barbara Hoffert
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.
Shirley Hazzard is, purely and simply, one of the greatest writers working in English today. Which makes me more grateful to have this long-hoped-for new novel.
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 TheGreat Fire is brilliant and dazzling you would know it is the absolute truth. This is a book that is worth a twenty-year wait.
Shirley Hazzard has written a hypnotic novel that unfolds like a dream Japan, Southeast Asia, the end of one war and the beginnings of another, the colonial order gone, and, at the center of it all, a love story.
Recent Reader Reviews
Rated of 5
by cloggie downunder better than Transit The Great Fire is the 5th novel by Australian author, Shirley Hazzard. Set firstly in immediate post-war Japan and Hong Kong, then in England and New Zealand, this is the story of Aldred Leith, author, researching a book on China and Japan and... Read More
Rated of 5
This historical fiction is set in Asia in the years following Hiroshima. The narrator who is studying the effects of world events on Chinese society and most of the other characters in the book are lonely, isolated people (even in crowds). It is... Read More
Brilliant and utterly enthralling in its depiction of childhood, love and war, England and class. At its center this is a profoundand profoundly movingexploration of shame, forgiveness and the difficulty of absolution.
An emotionally charged, deeply affecting drama about the violence of modern life, and the intensity and courage to be found in the closeness of death. Blazing with Kennedys characteristic virtuosity, wit and narrative invention. Winner of the 2007 Costa Novel Award.
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