Excerpt from Empire of Light by David Czuchlewski, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reading Guide |  Reviews |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

Empire of Light

by David Czuchlewski

Empire of Light
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Sep 2003, 236 pages
    Mar 2005, 240 pages

  • Rate this book

Buy This Book

About this Book

Print Excerpt

"I'm going into the other room to do some work," I said, standing and gathering my papers. "I leave at seven tomorrow morning. You can let yourself out whenever you get around to it."

She nodded and looked down. "I understand. You don't even want to talk to me."

"I'm not falling for this shit. I said you could stay, but that's it. I don't want to have a big heart-to-heart with you. It's not healthy. We shouldn't have anything to do with each other."

"Don't you know why I'm here?"

"You had some sort of psychotic episode as your plane was landing."

"I'm here because I realized I made a mistake."

She folded her legs underneath her body and flopped sideways on the mattress, supporting her head with her arm. She was quiet, smoking silently. Just as I was about to give up and go grade my papers, she spoke in a low, halting monotone.

"I've lost track of something, and the last time I was on track was when we were together. On the plane I was thinking about what had gone wrong, where I had made the first step in the wrong direction. It all began when you and I broke up. When we were together was the last time everything was okay. And I just really wanted to see you again."

"And what did you think was going to happen? That we would get back together?"

"No, of course not...I don't know." She sighed. "I don't know what I want."

She rolled on the bed to reach the makeshift ashtray, stretching her arm to its full extension and revealing, underneath the baggy T-shirt, the feline curve of her shoulder blade. I wondered whether she knew the effect that her movements were having on me. I nearly decided that it would be worth the complications that would arise if only I could be with her again, even just for that one night. But then she took another slug of the sake and I remembered the sound of her vomiting in the men's-room toilet down the hallway from my dorm room, filling the bathroom stall with the sweet smell of barely digested tequila. I remembered having to soak masses of paper towels to clean her pink-flecked face and the sodden hair that had fallen in the way. I remembered her moaning, her face against the piss-stained tile floor, saying, incorrectly as it always turned out, "I'm okay. This won't happen again." She had made me miserable, and I wasn't going to fall for this new variation of her contrition.

"Enjoying the sake?" I said.

She nodded.

"Nothing's changed," I said.

She closed her eyes and turned away. I gathered my papers and my gradebook. She stubbed out the remainder of her cigarette in the bottom of the mug and threw herself backward into the pillow, arms crossed above her head.

"You're a sweetheart for letting me stay. I'll keep out of your way now."

I SLEPT ON the living-room couch, which in its advanced age had lost the ability to sufficiently cushion its crosswise metal beams. I woke like an old man, hand on the coccyx, wincing. Some impulse moved me to check on Anna before I left. The room retained the stale remainder of the previous evening's smoke. Anna was buried in the covers, sleeping on her side, her right arm thrown above her head as in a dance move. Her lips were parted, and each breath stirred a stray strand of hair that had fallen across her face. She looked young and untroubled. As I watched, the tickling of the hair on her face registered in her neglectful mind, and she ascended toward consciousness far enough to brush away the offending hair and murmur dreamily.

I taught poorly that day. I didn't have the papers graded, as I had promised. I was tired and my back remained sore for most of the morning. The kids had only two weeks of school left before summer vacation, and they were therefore even more difficult to control than usual. I was in no mood to walk around the room to keep them from talking to one another. I stared at my lesson plan on the voyages of the explorers. I looked up at the kids, with their glum and hostile expressions, and felt totally unequal to the task of making the peregrinations of Cortés relevant to them. It was not a banner day for Teach for Humanity.

From Empire of Light by David Czuchlewski. Copyright 2003 by Davind Czuchlewski. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced without written permission from the publisher, Putnam books.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Support BookBrowse

Become a Member
and discover your next great read!

Join Today!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket
    Auntie Poldi and the Sicilian Lions
    by Mario Giordano
    Munich matron and self-described worldly sophisticate, Isolde Oberreiter, has decided to retire to a...
  • Book Jacket: Of Arms and Artists
    Of Arms and Artists
    by Paul Staiti
    In the late eighteenth-century, the United States of America was still an emerging country, ...
  • Book Jacket: So Say the Fallen
    So Say the Fallen
    by Stuart Neville
    Noir crime fiction – Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett anyone? – is an American invention...
Book Discussions
Book Jacket
The Bone Tree
by Greg Iles

An epic trilogy of blood and race, family and justice.

About the book
Join the discussion!

First Impressions

  • Book Jacket

    The Comet Seekers
    by Helen Sedgwick

    A magical, intoxicating debut novel, both intimate and epic.

    Read Member Reviews

Win this book!
Win The World of Poldark

Win the book & DVD

Enter to win The World of Poldark and the full first series on DVD.


Word Play

Solve this clue:

One S D N M A S

and be entered to win..

Books that     

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.


Free Weekly Newsletter

Keep up with what's happening in the world of books:
Reviews, previews, interviews and more!

Spam Free: Your email is never shared with anyone; opt out any time.