The Poet of Tolstoy Park
By Sonny Brewer
(Ballantine Books, Hardcover, 9780345476319, 272pp.)
Publication Date: March 1, 2005
List Price: $21.95*
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“The more you transform your life from the material to the spiritual domain, the less you become afraid of death.” Leo Tolstoy spoke these words, and they became Henry Stuart’s raison d’etre. The Poet of Tolstoy Park is the unforgettable novel based on the true story of Henry Stuart’s life, which was reclaimed from his doctor’s belief that he would not live another year.
Henry responds to the news by slogging home barefoot in the rain. It’s 1925. The place: Canyon County, Idaho. Henry is sixty-seven, a retired professor and a widower who has been told a warmer climate would make the end more tolerable. San Diego would be a good choice.
Instead, Henry chose Fairhope, Alabama, a town with utopian ideals and a haven for strong-minded individualists. Upton Sinclair, Sherwood Anderson, and Clarence Darrow were among its inhabitants. Henry bought his own ten acres of piney woods outside Fairhope. Before dying, underscored by the writings of his beloved Tolstoy, Henry could begin to “perfect the soul awarded him” and rest in the faith that he, and all people, would succeed, “even if it took eons.” Human existence, Henry believed, continues in a perfect circle unmarred by flaws of personality, irrespective of blood and possessions and rank, and separate from organized religion. In Alabama, until his final breath, he would chase these high ideas.
But first, Henry had to answer up for leaving Idaho. Henry’s dearest friend and intellectual sparring partner, Pastor Will Webb, and Henry’s two adult sons, Thomas and Harvey, were baffled and angry that he would abandon them and move to the Deep South, living in a barn there while he built a round house of handmade concrete blocks. His new neighbors were perplexed by his eccentric behavior as well. On the coldest day of winter he was barefoot, a philosopher and poet with ideas and words to share with anyone who would listen. And, mysteriously, his “last few months” became years. He had gone looking for a place to learn lessons in dying, and, studiously advanced to claim a vigorous new life.
The Poet of Tolstoy Park is a moving and irresistible story, a guidebook of the mind and spirit that lays hold of the heart. Henry Stuart points the way through life’s puzzles for all of us, becoming in this timeless tale a character of such dimension that he seems more alive now than ever.
SONNY BREWER owns Over the Transom Bookshop in Fairhope and is board chairman of the nonprofit Fairhope Center for the Writing Arts. He is the former editor in chief of Mobile Bay Monthly; he also published and edited Eastern Shore Quarterly magazine, edited Red Bluff Review, and was founding associate editor of the weekly West Alabama Gazette. Brewer is the editor of the acclaimed annual three-volume anthology of Southern writing, Stories from the Blue Moon Cafe.
Advance praise for The Poet of Tolstoy Park
"...the heady blend of literary and philosophical references and some fine character writing make this a noteworthy debut."
“The Poet of Tolstoy Park is one of those unique and wonderful books that sings a hymn of praise to the philosophical and spiritual part of daily life.”
–Pat Conroy, author of My Losing Season
“Sonny Brewer writes the way people think and talk, if, of course, those people are poets. The language in this novel is lovely where it needs to be and gristle-tough where it is called for. . . . I loved this book because I love to read, and because I love to write, and I envy the skill in this as much as I loved the story that the writer’s skill embraces.”
–RICK BRAGG, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of All Over but the Shoutin’
“Without literary pretense and in good back porch storytelling fashion, Sonny Brewer stands his characters up and turns them around so you know them front and back.”
–WINSTON GROOM, author of Forrest Gump
“An intoxicating and loving tribute to an extraordinary man, Henry James Stuart, whose life story is one of the most fascinating adventures I have ever read. . . . Written in language both lush and luminous, Sonny Brewer’s debut novel is sustenance for both the mind and the soul. I believe that this novel is destined to become a literary treasure, and Brewer is destined to become a major voice in American literature.”
–BEV MARSHALL, author of Walking Through Shadows and Right as Rain
“A celebration of essential simplicity and the dignity of work. Sonny Brewer has given us a story of exploration and discovery, of the wisdom of plainness, of living in touch with each approaching and passing moment. You will not want to put it down.”
–ROBERT MORGAN, author of Gap Creek and This Rock
“With prose that mirrors the grace of his protagonist, Brewer seamlessly merges time and place with the interior landscape of the heart.”
–WILLIAM GAY, author of Provinces of Night