THE GREAT FIRE book cover   The Great Fire
Shirley Hazzard

Cover image: Burning of the houses of Parliament - J.M.W. Turner

Dustjacket synopsis:
"Twenty years in the writing, The Great Fire is a triumphant novel of lives shadowed by war and redeemed by love.

"After the Second World War, in war-torn Asia and stricken Europe, men and women must reinvent their lives and learn, from their past to dream again."

"Purely and simply, she is one of the greatest writers working in English today" - Michael Cunningham
"I wish there were a set of words like 'brilliant' and 'dazzling' that we had saved for the rarest occasions, so that when I tell you The Great Fire is brilliant and sazzling you would know it is the absolute truth. This is a book worth a twenty-year wait" - Ann Patchett, author of Bel Canto
"An hypnotic novel that unfolds like a dream: Japan, Southeast Asia, the end of one war and the beginning of another, the colonial order gone and at the centre of it all, a love story" - Joan Didion
"A brilliant, brave and sublimely written novel...among the most transcendent works I've ever had the pleasure of reading" - Anita Shreve

First Paragraph

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.

Aldred 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. 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.

From the Virago paperback edition, 2003.

This novel was the winner of the USA National Book Award in 2003, and the 2004 Miles Franklin Award.

This page and its contents are copyright © 2005 by Perry Middlemiss, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.

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Last modified: January 15, 2005.