Excerpt from The Great Fire by Shirley Hazzard, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Great Fire

by Shirley Hazzard

The Great Fire
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  • First Published:
    Oct 2003, 288 pages
    Jul 2004, 336 pages

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Print Excerpt

Leith asked, "What were you reading?"

The soldier groped with free hand to the floor. "My girl sent it."

The same photograph: Oliver Leith at his desk. On the front cover, the white tide, cobalt sky, and snowbound Acropolis.

Leith brought out his own copy from a trenchcoat pocket.

"I'll be damned."

They laughed, coming alive out of khaki drab. The driver was possibly twenty: staunch body, plain pleasant face. Grey eyes, wide apart, wide awake. "You related?"

"My father."

"I'm damned."

They were near the waterfront now, following the bed of some derelict subsidiary railway. The joltings might have smashed a rib cage. You could just see an arc of coastal shapes, far out from ruined docks: hills with rare lights and a black calligraphy of trees fringing the silhouettes of steep islands. The foreground reality, a wartime shambles of a harbour with its capsized shipping, was visible enough, and could, in that year, have been almost anywhere on earth.

The driver was peering along the track. "Write yourself?"

"Not in that way."

"Never too late."

The boy plainly considered his passenger past the stage of revelations. A dozen years apart in age, they were conclusively divided by war. The young soldier, called to arms as guns fell silent, was at peace with this superior -- civil and comradely, scarcely saluting or saying Sir, formalities no longer justified. Intuitively, too, they shared the unease of conquerors: the unseemliness of finding themselves few miles from Hiroshima.

"How do you manage here?" The man had a deep, low voice. If one had to put a colour to it, it would have been dark blue; or what people in costly shops call burgundy.

Copyright © 2003 Shirley Hazzard. All rights reserved. Reproduced with the permission of the publisher, Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

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