"The more you transform your life from the material to the spiritual domain, the less you become afraid of death." Leo Tolstoy spoke these words, and they became Henry Stuart's raison d'etre. The Poet of Tolstoy Park is the unforgettable novel based on the true story of Henry Stuart's life, which was reclaimed from his doctor's belief that he would not live another year.
Henry responds to the news by slogging home barefoot in the rain. It's 1925. The place: Canyon County, Idaho. Henry is sixty-seven, a retired professor and a widower who has been told a warmer climate would make the end more tolerable. San Diego would be a good choice.
Instead, Henry chose Fairhope, Alabama, a town with utopian ideals and a haven for strong-minded individualists. Upton Sinclair, Sherwood Anderson, and Clarence Darrow were among its inhabitants. Henry bought his own ten acres of piney woods outside Fairhope. Before dying, underscored by the writings of his beloved Tolstoy, Henry could begin to "perfect the soul awarded him" and rest in the faith that he, and all people, would succeed, "even if it took eons." Human existence, Henry believed, continues in a perfect circle unmarred by flaws of personality, irrespective of blood and possessions and rank, and separate from organized religion. In Alabama, until his final breath, he would chase these high ideas.
But first, Henry had to answer up for leaving Idaho. Henry's dearest friend and intellectual sparring partner, Pastor Will Webb, and Henry's two adult sons, Thomas and Harvey, were baffled and angry that he would abandon them and move to the Deep South, living in a barn there while he built a round house of handmade concrete blocks. His new neighbors were perplexed by his eccentric behavior as well. On the coldest day of winter he was barefoot, a philosopher and poet with ideas and words to share with anyone who would listen. And, mysteriously, his "last few months" became years. He had gone looking for a place to learn lessons in dying, and, studiously advanced to claim a vigorous new life.
The Poet of Tolstoy Park is a moving and irresistible story, a guidebook of the mind and spirit that lays hold of the heart. Henry Stuart points the way through life's puzzles for all of us, becoming in this timeless tale a character of such dimension that he seems more alive now than ever.
The Poet of Tolstoy Park
After the heyoka ceremony I came to live here where I am now between Wounded Knee Creek and Grass Creek. Others came too and we made these little gray houses of logs that you see, and they are square. It is a bad way to live, for there can be no power in a square.
"You have noticed that everything an Indian does is in a circle. And that is because the Power of the World always works in a circle, and everything tries to be round
"The sky is round and I have heard that the earth is round like a ball. And so are all the stars. The wind in its greatest power whirls.
"Birds make their nests in a circle, for theirs is the same religion as ours.
"But the Waischus [white men] have put us in these square boxes. Our power is gone and we are dying, for the Power is not in us any more."
Henry walked out of the doctor's office and the drumming rain that had begun to fall went ...
If you live in or around
Alabama ('a dozen miles as the laughing gull would fly across the bay from the
port city of Mobile') you might be lucky enough to know Sonny Brewer, the owner
of the Over The Transom Bookstore in
The Poet of Tolstoy Park is his first novel, A Sound Like Thunder will be published in August and he's currently working on the third volume of his Fairhope Trilogy: The Tumble Inn and Sit Down Café.
If you liked The Poet of Tolstoy Park, try these:
A fascinating and exquisitely written novel about the art and life of Robert Frost.
Firmin is a rat born in a book (a shredded copy of Finneggans Wake), who finds the books he consumes also consume his soul. He becomes a vagabond and philosopher, struggling with mortality and meaning.
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