Lisa Schwarzbaum
October 17, 2003 AT 04:00 AM EDT

The Great Fire

type
Book
Current Status
In Season
author
Shirley Hazzard
publisher
Farrar, Straus & Giroux
genre
Fiction

We gave it an A

Hazzard’s elegiac new novel, the first since her modern classic ”The Transit of Venus” in 1980, sails into port like a magnificent ship of fiction from another era: She writes in stately, compassionate sentences of things that matter, such as the triumph of love over loss, taking time to coax each character out of his or her hiding place of 20th-century unease. The fire the author has in mind is the blister of World War II, which leaves British war hero Aldred Leith adrift in 1948 Asia, losing himself in a study of occupied Japan. Hazzard gently, graciously contrasts Leith’s hesitant attraction to a much younger Australian girl with the fate of a fellow soldier, also broken by the destruction around him. The author convinces us that out of that world-changing fire, the age of anxiety was born.

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