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[Read Ebook] õ The Great Fire ⚛ The year isThe great fire of the Second World War has convulsed Europe and Asia In its wake, Aldred Leith, an acclaimed hero of the conflict, has spent two years in China at work on an account of world transforming change there Son of a famed and sexually ruthless novelist, Leith begins to resist his own self sufficiency, nurtured by war Peter Exley, another veteran and an art historian by training, is prosecuting war crimes committed by the Japanese Both men have narrowly escaped death in battle, and Leith saved Exley s life The men have maintained long distance friendship in a postwar loneliness that haunts them both, and which has swallowed Exley whole Now in their thirties, with their youth behind them and their world in ruins, both must invent the future and retrieve a private humanityArriving in Occupied Japan to record the effects of the bomb at Hiroshima, Leith meets Benedict and Helen Driscoll, the Australian son and daughter of a tyrannical medical administrator Benedict, at twenty, is doomed by a rare degenerative disease Helen, still younger, is inseparable from her brother Precocious, brilliant, sensitive, at home in the books they read together, these two have been, in Leith s words, delivered by literature The young people capture Leith s sympathy indeed, he finds himself struggling with his attraction to this girl whose feelings are as intense as his own and from whom he will soon be fatefully parted War is hell, but victory is lonelier Vietnam vets were the first to be diagnosed with post traumatic stress, but Hemingway described the disaffection after battle almost half a century before in The Sun Also Rises Warriors have had trouble returning home since the The Odyssey.Add Shirley Hazzard s new novel to the shelf of haunting post war stories The Great Fire smolders in the aftermath of World War II, when the ashes of that calamity threatened to flash back into flame or choke estra War is hell, but victory is lonelier Vietnam vets were the first to be diagnosed with post traumatic stress, but Hemingway described the disaffection after battle almost half a century before in The Sun Also Rises Warriors have had trouble returning home since the The Odyssey.Add Shirley Hazzard s new novel to the shelf of haunting post war stories The Great Fire smolders in the aftermath of World War II, when the ashes of that calamity threatened to flash back into flame or choke estranged survivors.It s been 23 years since her previous novel, The Transit of Venus, won the National Book Critics Circle Award The careful poetry of The Great Fire suggests that perfectionism rather than writer s block consumed those two decades In fact, the hiatus seems to have extracted Hazzard from the movement of contemporary literature and enabled her to produce a strikingly timeless novel with an aura of aged profundity.Her story comes into focus two years after the destruction of Hiroshima The war is over, but the peace is hardly satisfying, leaving a world grimy, lame, and troubled by rumors of resuming conflict In the wake of so much death, she writes, the necessity to assemble life became both urgent and oppressive One of the many victors challenged by that necessity is Aldred Leith, a 32 year old war hero, who s been wandering through the new peace like a man inspecting a burned cathedral I feel pursued, he tells a friend, by evocations of wartime violence, unexorcised Divorced from a war bride he never really knew and distant from his reserved parents, Leith comes to Japan to record the obliteration of an ancient culture He had spoken with many persons grieved and embittered by ruin, and by the gross ambiguities of their liberation and related these matters with simplicity and truth Though we read almost none of Leith s report, Hazzard s narrative is steeped in gorgeous, tragic visions of Asia after the war along with the most careful parsing of Leith s uneasiness about playing conqueror amid the ashes of Hiroshima.As a decorated soldier in the British army with a publishing assignment from a French general, he enjoys a rare kind of autonomy in this territory now firmly controlled by America Autonomy, though, is a quality he s had enough of As war was ending, he had intended to create for himself a fixed point, some centre from which departures might be made, but two years later he is still at an immense distance from anything resembling home Surprisingly, he finds refuge as a lodger on an island off the mainland where he stays during his observations His hosts, a brusque Australian administrator and his bitter wife, were disquieting as a symptom of new power, Leith thinks wryly Living with them did not even seem a cessation of hostilities But their son and daughter infuse his life with oxygen Like Leith, Ben and Helen have suffered and benefited from isolation Shipped around the world to avoid running into war or burdening their parents, these two siblings sound like characters written by Louisa May Alcott, the effect of having no company but each other and a collection of 19th century novels.Cloistered in their rooms with this dashing and modest war hero during hot afternoons, Ben and Helen feel as though they ve discovered another fascinating narrator Charming, openly affectionate, and searingly perceptive, they re just the sort of people Leith needs to nurse him back into the habits of affection.However, two problems threaten this oasis in the ruins of war First, Ben is rapidly declining under the effects of a chronic illness, which his parents alternately ignore and resent Second, Leith feels he mustn t pursue his love for Helen because, at 17, she s almost half his age And yet, as Ben s health fails and Leith s desire grows, the three of them conspire against death and parents to devise some way to stay together Having expected, repeatedly to die from the great fires into which this time had pitched him, Hazzard writes, Leith had recovered a great desire to live completely by which he meant, with her Several stories develop alongside this one, involving Leith s friends and relations, all uncertain about how to reconstruct a life in the silence of peace His best friend pursues war criminals in Hong Kong, but can t stand up to his parents Back home in Britain, Leith meets an old lover who later became his father s mistress, a woman now suspended alone between her scruples and her shamelessness.Hazzard writes with an extraordinary command of geography and time, moving around the world to gather fleeting but arresting impressions of fascism in Italy, battle in Germany, and defeat in Japan all the shattering chaos that through a million permutations has brought Leith into the company of these two ethereal siblings.Flashes of violence cut through the contemplative narrative, but in her exquisitely cut sentences, Hazzard concentrates on the subtler movements of these hearts cauterized by violence Her story is eerily quiet, filled with despair but also traces of hope, caught indirectly, as astronomers locate dark matter by the way it bends light.In a novel that would collapse under the weight of pretension if a line were mislaid, Hazzard keeps this romance aloft by virtue of her refined sentiment and an illuminating understanding of human nature Against the backdrop of a world stunned by the most appalling obscenities, the affection between Leith and Helen glows with a kind of unearthly luminescence.http www.csmonitor.com 2003 1002 p1 The time frame for this historical novel is 1947 48, taking place primarily in East Asia, soon after the end of WWII Ms Hazzard paints a panorama of a world ravaged by war through her flowing prose and with great descriptive clarity At the heart of the story is Aldred Leith, who is English, and has come to chart the physical damage incurred throughout the war, particularly in Hiroshima He finds not only physical but great psychological damage to the prideful Japanese people In time he falls The time frame for this historical novel is 1947 48, taking place primarily in East Asia, soon after the end of WWII Ms Hazzard paints a panorama of a world ravaged by war through her flowing prose and with great descriptive clarity At the heart of the story is Aldred Leith, who is English, and has come to chart the physical damage incurred throughout the war, particularly in Hiroshima He finds not only physical but great psychological damage to the prideful Japanese people In time he falls in love with a young girl living in occupied Japan who is caring for her physically disabled brother Employing parallel narratives, we meet Aldred s Australian friend Peter Exley who is investigating Japanese war crimes in Hong Kong Exley is facing a life altering decision as to what to do with the rest of his life.I was emotionally drawn into this novel and couldn t put it down Many of the feelings of sadness and soulful turmoil by rescuers and heroes can be applied to our world s current situation A quote from the book sums it up as the Chinese maxim whereby one becomes responsible for the life one saves , certainly applies to our situation in Iraq.I highly recommend this book read in 2003 The only great thing about The Great Fire is its name This is one of those books that as you read it, you find yourself lost in thoughts about the morning commute, the long ago expired and still unpaid decal on your front windshield, about the dog, that you forgot to feed and you now know it repaid you by doing its business on the one spot of the carpet, which you fiercely guarded and hoped to protect before the weekend party with your boss and his pricy wife who for some time now has been The only great thing about The Great Fire is its name This is one of those books that as you read it, you find yourself lost in thoughts about the morning commute, the long ago expired and still unpaid decal on your front windshield, about the dog, that you forgot to feed and you now know it repaid you by doing its business on the one spot of the carpet, which you fiercely guarded and hoped to protect before the weekend party with your boss and his pricy wife who for some time now has beenbut then you collect your thoughts and try again to refocus your attention on this story of post war Japan and the Australian soldier who fell in love with a teenager, or was the chap Britishand the she, the bosses wife, who strangely winked at you during the last Christmas party and you felt like chokinghe must have been Australian since in the end he decided to stay with the girl in Australiabut now you know that the spot in the carpet would forever remain brownish with its if not putrid then at least nagging reminder of the day you forgot to feed the damn dog because the book you were tying to readbut who really cares whether the Australian and the teenager remained faithful to each other, after all the world really changed since 1947and so you hope that the next paycheck would be enough for you to make a call to Stanley Steamer and have them fix the memory of your immoral transgressionBut back to the book If you love British style novels of the kind where old ladies and younger chaps with names like Bertram and Aldred get together to have some tea, then in their spare time write long romantic letters, and from time to time remind each other of the horrid world war 2, this is the book for you If you are like me, meaning you have so much on your mind that it d take a much stronger novel to keep your attention pinned to its pages, then I highly recommend you withhold the urge to read this one Although I find this book terrible on many levels, I must start by saying that Shirley Hazzard is a good writer Actually an excellent writer Looking back on my experience reading the book, I have to say that I often enjoyed the beautiful phrasing long enough to forget what a terrible book this actually is as a side note concerning Ms Hazzards language, if any Australians or New Zealanders happen to read this review, please let me know if you actually use the word Antipodean to describe yo Although I find this book terrible on many levels, I must start by saying that Shirley Hazzard is a good writer Actually an excellent writer Looking back on my experience reading the book, I have to say that I often enjoyed the beautiful phrasing long enough to forget what a terrible book this actually is as a side note concerning Ms Hazzards language, if any Australians or New Zealanders happen to read this review, please let me know if you actually use the word Antipodean to describe yourselves That out of the way, I must say, this book is a pompous piece of bombastic trash, the kind of trash that book reviewers seem to love Its easy to see why Lets break down the book The world before the great conflagration of World War Two was a nice place for people like Leith The world was run by rich educated, and oh so English people They had parties in which they talked about the humanities and had affairs with others who dressed well and talked about literature They owned nice houses outside of Hong Kong When they weren t residing in those houses, they stayed at nice hotels for white people Ok, yes, you may and should object to my characterization That is not what the book is about And I totally agree My point is that Hazzard, like a Merchant and Ivory film glamorizes colonialism and the colonial project to such an extent that for her, the picturesque colonial days happily devoid of any, you know, Asians , come to represent the apogee of civilization, and the post war era, run by Australians and, ugh Americans, is boorish and depressing This beautifully written book invents a fiction which the literate types seem to love The colonial days were a great time for literate types In this simplistic sketch, I hope only to point out Hazzards vision of the colonialism, war, and society does nothing but play to the romantic fiction of a world order in which people like her were on top and in charge