Published in the year of his death from cancer, Henning Mankell’s After 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.