Published in the year of his death from cancer, Henning Mankell’sAfter the Fire is a slow examination of a seventy-year-old’s confrontation with solitude and loss. The protagonist, a retired doctor, lives in a archipelago being visited by an arsonist, and we begin at the site of the first fire. Finding the arsonist is relegated to the background, as what it means to live in a community where trust is replaced by wariness is explored, even as death and old age is the larger specter in the forefront. Yet this is an optimistic novel, where friendship and family, however distant, is embraced, sometimes gingerly, sometimes with affection.
This was the one of the last books I read before I broke my wrist, but not the last book I’ve read since. There was a fatalistic stoicism in the narrative that strikes me deeper as I now try to fill my days with no-impact activity. Thus constrained to cat care, lackluster weeding, a great deal of sighing, a fascination of one-handed bottle opening techniques, elevating my arm on pillows, watching repeats of mysteries, instagram, I am reading with an awareness that my situation could have been worse. The Great Believers by the quite brilliant Rebecca Makkai, a Claire Messud novel, Elif Safak‘s Forty Rules of Love,and a wonderful novel by Caitlin Macy called Mrs. Now, biding my time, easing insomnia, I am romping through Kevin Kwan‘s Crazy Rich Asians, which will become a film*. it has an all-Asian cast, for it is story about Asians. Apparently, one filmperson wanted the heroine to be re-cast white, but no. She will be a wary non-rich, non-crazy Asian woman portrayed by an Asian.
Sometimes the fates shift the balance.
*the book is different than what the film preview shows, from dialogue to fashion, alas.
Only when it is time to plant the tomatoes. This is the refrain I hear when I think about planting dahlia tubers; sow sunflower seeds; plant the zinnias. The soil temperature has to remain in the fifties, if not ideally in the sixties. As I write, an arctic air cuts through my open window ( because it is spring) and chills my short-sleeved (ditto) arms.
I am working on the third book of the Meterling series. Sometimes I ignore it, thinking to get other responsibilities out of the way. Yet that never works, for there is always a query, a quibble, a tugging in the mind that feels dissatisfied for not working. So I distract myself with a garden that feels unbalanced. Warmth seeps in the day, creeps away at night. There is a new foal at the farm, I hear. Still spring then, the season of all things new, but not yet time to plant the flowers I love.
The first Tuesday in November my last two novels come out in paperback in Vintage. I am beyond thrilled, especially as I did not expect Inheritanceto have a third rebirth. Beacon Press brought out my first novel as a trade book a decade after it first appeared, in 1990, in hardcover from Knopf, and they brought out Inheritance in trade as well. Now, thirteen years later, Inheritance will be back in a new paper edition. It is a young novel, in some ways younger in spirit than TheJourney, not only because ita protagonist is a fifteen-year-old heroine. It features her relationship with a man twice her age, but the love story is really between herself and her mother.
I am over the moon thatAs sweet As Honey gets a second chance in print. I am partial to softcovers, the pocket-sized books you can slip in a purse, that can bend with ease, and swat a mosquito if necessary. I can dog-ear the pages, jot down a phone number. Books are living things after all.