Cover image for The great fire
Title:
The great fire
Author:
Hazzard, Shirley, 1931-2016.
Publication Information:
Prince Frederick, Md. : Recorded Books, [2004, c2003]

℗2004, ©2003
Physical Description:
10 audio discs (11.25 hours) : digital ; 4 3/4 in.
Summary:
In war-torn Asia and stricken Europe, men and women, still young but veterans of harsh experience, must reinvent their lives and expectations, and learn, from their past, to dream again. Some will fulfill their destinies, others will falter. At the center of the story, a brave and brilliant soldier find that survival and worldly achievement are not enough. His counterpart, a young girl living in occupied Japan and tending her dying brother, falls in love, and in the process discovers herself.
General Note:
"Unabridged Fiction"--Container.

Compact disc.
Language:
English
Added Author:
ISBN:
9781402581274
Format :
Audiobook on CD

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Summary

Author Notes

Shirley Hazzard was born in Sydney, Australia on January 30, 1931. Before becoming an author in the early 1960s, she went to work for the British Combined Intelligence Services in Hong Kong, was an employee of the British High Commissioner's Office in Wellington, New Zealand, and was a technical assistant to under-developed countries for the United Nations.

Her first book, Cliffs of Fall and Other Stories, was published in 1963. Her other books include The Evening of the Holiday, People in Glass Houses, The Bay of Noon, Greene on Capri, Countenance of Truth: The United Nations and the Waldheim Case, Defeat of an Ideal, and The Ancient Shore: Dispatches From Naples written with her husband Francis Steegmuller. She won the National Book Critics Circle Award for fiction in 1980 for The Transit of Venus and the National Book Award for fiction in 2003 for The Great Fire. She died on December 12, 2016 at the age of 85.

(Bowker Author Biography) Shirley Hazzard's books include "The Evening of the Holiday", "The Bay of Noon", & "The Transit of Venus" (winner of the 1981 National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction).

(Publisher Provided)


Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Despite this Australian writer's absence from the world's fiction stage--since the 1981 publication of The Transit of Venus, which earned her great acclaim, including the National Book Critics' Circle Award--her readers have continued to hold hands in devotion and anticipation. Their thrill over her new novel will be completed; the long days and nights of waiting will be forgotten. Time and place have always been exactly evoked in Hazzard's fiction, and such is the case here. The time is 1947-48, and the place is, primarily, East Asia. Obviously, then, this is a locale much altered--by the events of World War II, of course, and, as we see, physical destruction and psychological wariness and weariness lay over the land. Our hero, and indeed he fills the requirements to be called one, is Aldred Leith, who is English and part of the occupation forces inapan; his particular military task is damage survey. He has an interesting past, including, most recently, a two-year walk across civil-war-torn China to write a book. In the present, which readers will feel they inhabit right along with Leith, by way of Hazzard's beautifully atmospheric prose, he meets the teenage daughter and younger son of a local Australian commander. And, as Helen is growing headlong into womanhood, this novel of war's aftermath becomes a story of love--or more to the point, of the restoration of the capacity for love once global and personal trauma have been shed. --Brad Hooper Copyright 2003 Booklist


Publisher's Weekly Review

A new novel from Hazzard is a literary event. It's been two decades between the publication of The Transit of Venus and this magnificent book, but her burnished prose has not diminished in luster nor has her wisdom about the human condition. Two men who have survived WWII and are now enduring the soiled peace, and one 17-year-old woman who has suffered beyond her years, are the characters around whom this narrative revolves. Aldred Leith, 32, the son of a famous novelist and the winner of a military medal for heroism, has come to postwar Japan to observe the conditions there for a book he's writing on the consequences of war within an ancient society. In an idyllic setting above the city of Kure, near Hiroshima, he meets teenaged Helen Driscoll and her terminally ill brother, Ben, who are the poetic children of a loathsome Australian army major and his harridan wife. Leith is drawn to the siblings, who live vicariously in classic literature, and he soon realizes that he's in love with Helen, despite the difference in their ages. Meanwhile, Leith's close friend Peter Exley, who interrogates Japanese war criminals in Hong Kong, faces a decision about what to do with the rest of his life. He dreams of becoming an art historian, but he lacks the courage to make a clean break from the law. When he suddenly acts rashly, the outcome is dreadfully ironic. The leitmotif here is the need for love to counteract the vile wind of history that breeds loss and dislocation. Hazzard writes gently, tenderly, yet with fierce knowledge of how a dearth of love can render lives meaningless. The purity of her sentences, each one resonant with implication, create an effortless flow. This is a quiet book, but one that carries portents well beyond its time and place, suggesting the disquieting state of our current world. (Oct.) Forecast: A certain generation of readers who know Hazzard's work will buy this book with alacrity. Widespread review coverage should generate additional attention. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved


Library Journal Review

There's no doubt that Hazzard's first novel in 20 years (winner of a National Book Award) is a brilliant piece of writing. It is not, however, a book that transfers well to audio. Use of unfamiliar place names around postwar China and Japan, coupled with vignettes focusing on various characters (a last name here, a first name there), make the story incredibly difficult to follow. Yet if one strips the tale of the author's poetic prose, the story itself is almost simplistic: a British officer falls in love with the teenage daughter of a man technically his superior, offering both her and her dying brother the love and companionship their parents withhold. In parallel stories, it would seem that each character, in one way or another, craves affection, making the devastated landscape a powerful backdrop. The action picks up in the final third of the work, but too few listeners will have the patience to reach this point. Narrated by Virginia Leishman, this novel is for larger collections and those with special interest in British or postwar fiction.-Rochelle Ratner, formerly with Soho Weekly News, New York (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Excerpts

Excerpts

Excerpt from The Great Fire by Shirley Hazzard. Copyright (c) 2003 by Shirley Hazzard. To be published in October, 2003 by Farrar, Straus & Giroux, LLC. All rights reserved. Now they were starting. Finality ran through the train, an exhalation. There were thuds, hoots, whistles, and the shrieks of late arrivals. From a megaphone, announcements were incomprehensible in American and Japanese. Before the train had moved at all, the platform faces receded into the expression of those who remain. Leith sat by a window, his body submissively chugging as they got under way. He would presently see that rain continued to fall on the charred suburbs of Tokyo, raising, even within the train, a spectral odour of cinders. Meanwhile, he was examining a photograph of his father. Aldred Leith was holding a book in his right hand--not reading, but looking at a likeness of his father on the back cover. It was one of those pictures, the author at his desk. In an enactment of momentary interruption, the man was half-turned to the camera, left elbow on blotter, right hand splayed over knee. Features fine and lined, light eyes, one eyelid drooping. A taut mouth. Forehead full, full crop of longish white hair. The torso broad but spare; the clothes unaffected, old and good. As a boy, Leith had wondered how his father could always have good clothes so seldom renewed--a seeming impossibility, like having a perpetual two days' growth of beard. The expression, not calm but contained, was unrevealing. Siding with the man, the furniture supplied few clues: a secretary of dark wood was fitted in its top section with pigeonholes and small closed drawers. This desk had been so much part of the climate of family life, indivisible from his father's moods--and even appearing, to the child, to generate them--that the son had never until now inspected it with adult eyes. For that measure of detachment, a global conflict had been required, a wartime absence, a voyage across the world, a long walk through Asia; a wet morning and strange train. There was no telephone on the desk, no clock or calendar. A bowl of blown roses, implausibly prominent, had perhaps been borrowed, by the photographer, from another room. On the blotter, two handwritten pages were shielded by the tweedy sleeve. Pens and pencils fanned from a holder alongside new books whose titles, just legible, were those of Oliver Leith's novels in postwar translations. There were bills on a spike, a glass dish of chips, a paperweight in onyx. No imaginable colours, other than those of the foisted flowers; no object that invited, by its form or material, the pressure of a hand. No photograph. Nothing to suggest familiarity or attachment. The adult son thought the picture loveless. The father who had famously written about love--love of self, of places, of women and men--was renowned for a private detachment. His life, and that of his wife, his child, was a tale of dislocation: there were novels of love from Manchuria to Madagascar. The book newly to hand, outcome of a grim postwar winter in Greece, could be no exception. And was called Parthenon Freeze. If the man had stood up and walked from the picture, the strong torso would have been seen to dwindle into the stockiness of shortish legs. The son's greater height, not immoderate, came through his mother; his dark eyes also. All this time, Leith's body had been gathering speed. Putting the book aside, he interested himself in the world at the window: wet town giving way to fields, fields soggily surrendering to landscape. The whole truncated from time to time by an abrupt tunnel or the lash of an incoming train. Body went on ahead; thought hung back. The body could give a good account of itself--so many cities, villages, countries; so many encounters, such privation and exertion should, in anyone's eyes, constitute achievement. Leith's father had himself flourished the trick of mobility, fretting himself into receptivity and fresh impression. The son was inclined to recall the platform farewells. He had the shabby little compartment to himself. It was locked, and he had been given a key. It was clean, and the window had been washed. Other sections of the train were crammed with famished, thread bare Japanese. But the victors travelled at their ease, inviolable in their alien uniforms. Ahead and behind, the vanquished overflowed hard benches and soiled corridors: men, women, infants, in the miasma of endurance. In the steam of humanity and the stench from an appalling latrine. Deploring, Aldred Leith was nevertheless grateful for solitude, and spread his belongings on the opposite seat. Having looked awhile at Asia from his window, he brought out a different, heavier book from his canvas bag. In that spring of 1947, Leith was thirty-two years old. He did not consider himself young. Like others of his generation, had perhaps never quite done so, being born into knowledge of the Great War. In the thoughtful child, as in the imaginative and travelled schoolboy, the desire had been for growth: to be up and away. From the university where he did well and made friends, he had strolled forth distinctive. Then came the forced march of resumed war. After that, there was no doubling back to recover one's youth or take up the slack. In the wake of so much death, the necessity to assemble life became both urgent and oppressive. Where traceable, his paternal ancestors had been, while solidly professional, enlivened by oddity. His grandfather, derided by relatives as an impecunious dilettante, had spiked all guns by inventing, at an advanced age, a simple mechanical process that made his fortune. Aldred's father, starting out as a geologist whose youthful surveys in high places--Bhutan, the Caucasus--produced, first, lucid articles, had soon followed these with lucid harsh short stories. The subsequent novels, astringently romantic, brought him autonomy and fame. Renouncing geology, he had kept a finger, even so, on the pulse of that first profession, introducing it with authority here and there in his varied narratives: the Jurassic rocks of East Greenland, the lavatic strata of far islands; these played their parts in the plot. In Oliver Leith's house in Norfolk there hung a painting of the youthful geologist prowling the moraines on his shortish legs. A picture consequential yet inept, like a portrait by Benjamin Robert Haydon. Leith's mother, by birth a Londoner, was of Scots descent. There were red-cheeked relatives, well connected. A fine tall stone house, freezing away near Inverness, had been a place of cousinly convergence in summers before the Second World War. Aldred had not been an only child: a younger sister had died in childhood from diphtheria. It was then that his mother had begun to accompany, or follow, her husband on his journeys, taking their son with her. And on the move ever since, the son thought, looking from his window at the stricken coasts of Japan. Two years ago, as war was ending, he had intended to create for himself a fixed point, some centre from which departures might be made--the decision seeming, at the time, entirely his to make. Instead, at an immense distance from anything resembling home, he wondered with unconcern what circumstance would next transform the story. From a habit of self-reliance, he was used to his own moods and did not mind an occasional touch of fatalism. He had, himself, some fame, quite unlike his father's and quite unsought. It was near evening when he arrived. The train was very late, but an Australian soldier sent to meet him was waiting on the improvised platform: "Major Leith?" "You had a long wait." "That's all right." They went down ill-lit wooden stairs. A jeep was parked on gravel. "I had a book." They swung the kit aboard, and climbed in. On an unrepaired road, where pedestrians wheeled bicycles in the dusk, they skirted large craters and dipped prudently into small ones. They were breathing dust and, through it, smells of the sea. 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. Excerpted from The Great Fire: A Novel by Shirley Hazzard All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.