The Great Fire

The Great Fire

Series: Quick Lit May 2021

Anne Helen Peterson recommended this 2003 National Book Award winner on an upcoming episode of What Should I Read Next, describing it as a story of longing (her favorite!) and impossible love. The story opens in 1947 with British War hero Aldred Leith arriving in Japan on official business: he's tasked with documenting the aftermath of the Hiroshima bombing, and while on assignment falls in love with Helen Driscoll, a woman 15 years his junior, who is just 16 when they meet. While the story is compelling, what I really loved in this novel was Hazzard's introspective style and carefully crafted structure. I love discovering hidden backlist gems like these through WSIRN podcast guests, and I can’t wait for you to hear the episode.

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About the Book

The Great Fire is the winner of the 2003 National Book Award for Fiction.

A great writer’s sweeping story of men and women struggling to reclaim their lives in the aftermath of world conflict

The Great Fire is Shirley Hazzard’s first novel since The Transit of Venus, which won the National Book Critics Circle Award in 1981. The conflagration of her title is the Second World War. 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, Aldred Leith, a brave and brilliant soldier, finds that survival and worldly achievement are not enough. Helen Driscoll, a young girl living in occupied Japan and tending her dying brother, falls in love, and in the process discovers herself.

In the looming shadow of world enmities resumed, and of Asia’s coming centrality in world affairs, a man and a woman seek to recover self-reliance, balance, and tenderness, struggling to reclaim their humanity.

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