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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"And, better than that," Preacher Webb said, "I know a good place where you can live after you die." His broad smile revealed good white teeth, but his eyes revealed the melancholia of a man soon to lose a friend.

"But how could I rest if you also plan to reside there, Will?" Henry had clapped Will on the back, and asked Will to walk with him to mail his letter written back to Mr. Stedman, wherein he had asked him to act as his agent in the purchase of a small piece of land near this Fairhope.

Then, in quick succession two more letters were exchanged between Henry and Stedman, and Henry hoped this latest missive from him would quote a final price on a nine-acre parcel of land on the highest hill along the eastern crescent of Mobile Bay. It lay about a mile inland from the bay, part of a place called Montrose that was a good hour's walk north of the town of Fairhope. Upon this nine acres, "high and dry in the piney woods," was a small barn and outhouse, which survived Union troop burnings fifty years earlier, and a deep well with sweet cold water. And Henry would, if the price was right, buy the land.

He would not petition for a leasehold on colony property, for he had his own misgivings as to the administration of a good idea institutionalized. Tolstoy's passion became the Tolstoyan Movement. But in the the quarter century since around 1900 when the first communal farming colonies were attempted by Tolstoy's disciples, Henry had not read of a single success. On the other hand, the Sioux, and Pawnee, Cheyenne and Pueblo, indeed all the Indian tribes Henry had ever read of had found a working proposition in communal living and he wondered what was the component of civilization that was our hindrance.

Perhaps, he thought, it was working first with the aggregate, rather than the individual that was the problem, and individuals who want to amend first the group rather than the member, who is himself. Henry remembered reading Confucius, who said that only self-perfection improves mankind. Henry knew his best effort in Alabama would be to improve himself to the degree that he could with such a known short time in which to do it.

Still, this single tax colony was intriguing and the connection, albeit a loose one, to Leo Tolstoy was exciting. Learning of it and observing its dynamics could be enough to supplant, and hopefully often, Henry's ruminations upon his hour of death, such ruminations as were also shared by Count Tolstoy.

But where Tolstoy mostly feared and loathed the proposition that a thing of awesome and beautiful possibility, our very lives, should come to such a mean and horrendous end in death, Henry had no terror of dying. On the contrary, while certainly melancholic, his own regard for life's end bore an equal measure of intense curiosity. It was Henry's nature to be curious about the workings of things, even death. It would also suit his curiosity well to share company with men and women who were attracted to settle in this Fairhope colony seeking a better life.

Henry mounted the steps onto the board sidewalk, bound for the Nampa post office. He walked past two storefronts, eyes within following him, whispers within wondering would Henry really leave town? Would a father leave his sons and go off down South to die alone?

Henry turned the knob and pushed open the post office door, and it swung on squeaky rusting hinges. A yellow square of sunlight fell through the single front window and lay upon the varnished plank floor. Dust motes moved on air currents like tiny insects in the light. Jeremiah, the postal clerk, was leaning his elbows on the gray marble counter at the mail window with the letter that Henry hoped for held high between his thumb and forefinger. Jeremiah did not alter his position except to lift his left hand and push upward and higher onto his brow the green visor over his eyes.

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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