Excerpt from The Poet of Tolstoy Park by Sonny Brewer, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Poet of Tolstoy Park

by Sonny Brewer

The Poet of Tolstoy Park
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  • First Published:
    Mar 2005, 272 pages
    Mar 2006, 288 pages

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Henry raced from the post office, still holding the letter in his hand, the pages flapping with the long arcs of Henry's swinging arms. He banged open the front door of his home and charged into his study, fairly tossing the letter onto his desk as he passed it. He went directly to the bookcase where his Tolstoy volumes were neatly arranged and took down Resurrection. In five minutes he had found in the novel a reference to Henry George.

In Book II / Chapter I, this: "Nekhlyudov knew all this when, as a university student, he had confessed and preached Henry Georgism and, on the basis of that teaching, had given to the peasants the land inherited from his father."

And soon in Chapter VI: "Henry George's fundamental position recurred vividly to Nekhlyudov's mind. He remembered how he had once been carried away by it, and he was surprised that he could have forgotten it. ‘The earth cannot be any one's property; it cannot be bought or sold any more than water, air, or sunshine. All have an equal right to the advantages it gives to men.'"

Chapter IX found Tolstoy's character continuing: "Nekhlyudov was encouraged by this, and began to explain Henry George's single-tax system. ‘The earth is no man's; it is God's,' he began."

There was more in Resurrection, and, then, within an hour Henry was into Tolstoy's diaries, and found this:
April 2, 1906. "People talk and argue about Henry George's system. It isn't the system which is valuable (although not only do I not know a better one, but I can't imagine one), but what is valuable is the fact that the system establishes an attitude to land which is universal and the same for everybody. Let them find a better one if they can."

Henry closed the Tolstoy, stacked the book on the others and pushed them all away from the center of his desk and turned back to the letter, meaning to take up where he'd quit reading when he bolted from the post office. He blinked several times until he relocated his spot on the second page.

After a rocky start, according to Stedman, the little colony had attracted numerous hard-working settlers from various parts of the country. The natural beauty of the location together with cooperative development nurtured a kind of democratic communalism that appealed to intellectuals and mavericks, artists and writers and craftspeople, and a reasonable share of crazies. The literature also boasted that several famous visitors, including Upton Sinclair, Sherwood Anderson, Mrs. Henry Ford, and Clarence Darrow, had come to see what Fairhope was all about.

Henry returned the letter to its envelope and slipped it into his shirt pocket. He felt a little chill on his outing to the post office, especially on the way back home, and he went to the hall tree and took down from the brass hook his heavy woolen vest. He slipped it on, and briefly considered his boots standing there beside the hall tree, but thought, no, and walked to his front door and outside to go find his friend Will, probably at his church office. And that is where Henry found him, preparing a sermon for Sunday, a Bible and concordance and note pad open on Will's desk. In a rush, Henry told Will about the Henry George/Leo Tolstoy connection of the Alabama town, then stopped abruptly and asked the preacher if he'd known of it all along, aware of Henry's affection for Tolstoy. Will laughed loudly and told Henry he knew less about nuances in the Gospels than he should, and the prospect of him ferreting out such obscure details was a fantasy of a higher order than walking on water.

"Well, then it is Providence that you bring this to me, Will." Henry rapped his knuckles on Will's desk. "If Clarence Darrow and Upton Sinclair are curious about the goings-on in this Fairhope, then so am I." He walked behind Will's desk and clapped him on the shoulder. "I do believe, Will," Henry had said to his friend, "that you have helped me to discover the right place to live until I die."

Excerpted from The Poet of Tolstoy Park by Sonny Brewer Copyright © 2005 by Sonny Brewer. Excerpted by permission of Ballantine Books, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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