The Poet of Tolstoy Park

ISBN: 034547631X
ISBN 13: 9780345476319
By: Sonny Brewer

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About this book

“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.From the Hardcover edition.

Reader's Thoughts

Katherine Marie

A good friend of mine suggested this book to me, her exact words "A very good..very good book" I must say I totally agree with her.I'm a bit of a poet myself, the poems included in the story were a real treat.

Renee

This book is an example of why I love good reads. I would probably not have found it if I had not read one of my connections review. This is a slow meandering book that is full of philosophy and provoking thoughts. I really enjoyed it even though it is not my typical book. I actually was dreading trying to read it for fear it would be too slow, but in the end I could not put it down.

Nmartino

A fictionalized account of an Idaho man who was given a year to live in the 1920's due to to TRB. He moved to just outside Fairhope, Alabama and built himself an unconventional home, which still exists. Greg and I found it on our way back from the beach last weekend. Very cool! He ended up living another twenty years.

Izajane

I love the poetic philosophy in this book. The circular themes: life, water, seasons, hurricanes, birds nests, hogans, weaving, etc. are certainly worth in-depth exploration, and a reader can contemplate some of the ideas in this book for many hours. However, the abrubt transitions and narrative stings leading to nowhere can be irritating. Also discomfiting are some of the ideas regarding god and religion. Our Henry seems, at first, to be a solid independent sprit in his regard of omni-everything supernatural beings, and he obviously has little regard for organized religion and the posturing men do in deference to it. He even goes so far to contemplate on p.202 that divine presence is only hypothesis, but his later convictions don't seem to fit with his self proclaimed 'god is in everything' philosophy. That dichotomy aside, the reader can have much fun letting Henry's sometimes bizarre ideas morph around in her brain. I fully admit, I had an unrelenting desire to go about without shoes for weeks at a stretch to see what life transforming ideas that action might net me. Alas, I worried about staph infection and all other sorts of nasties, and so didn't experiment. I know I'll be reading this one again, if for no other reason than to fantasize about living in solitude in a simple wood.

Bobbi Taniguchi

Henry believes in God. He doesn't go to church. He's preparing to die of TB. He leaves his two grown sons and his best friend (a preacher, in whose church he hasn't stepped since his wife died), and moves far away, takes a stint in solitude, realizes that he's gone too far over the line into himself, and yet it has been good medicine too.Lots of good insight into what really matters, in a time where you could take the time to find it out from your own soul.I liked his book fast. I've done that myself for shorter times.I wanted to be a hermit often, as I grew up.I struggle with wanting to be alone enough to know myself and my relationship to God, and wanting to know all the people around me deeply, which takes time and energy. Still not to the place in age where he is; it is one of the stories that can't be adapted directly into the busy life of a stay at home mom. But still, a lot of good stuff. I loved it. Even when I didn't agree everywhere; it's the sincerity that carries it. The best that is in us is that sincerity, each different in each person's solitary universe.

Holli

Brewer isn’t nearly the writer that Wendell Berry is but this novel reminds me a bit of Berry. Just as Berry tells the story of Harlan Hubbard, so Brewer gives witness to the life of Henry Stuart, both of whom live life at a depth that our fast paced society does not allow. (Even though both men lived in decades that were a lot slower than the present one). I was inspired by the way Stuart took a sabbatical from reading, writing, and thinking too much and devoted himself to the physical labor of building his house. I also liked Chapters 31 and following that deal with his healing. Actually, his healing begins in his solitude and work and climaxes in the hurricane, and his turning toward his community. A 3-pronged approach to healing. I am glad to know of Henry Stuart.Book Description“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.

Heidi

This is a great book, very sweet and gave you a lot to think about. I think I also enjoyed it because it took place close to where we lived in Mobile. It made me wish I had explored this area a little more when I was there.

Baldwin_tina

I really loved this book! This is a novel written about a man who actually lived. I especially loved the reflections of the poet as he is contemplating how to live the last year the doctor has given him. I especially loved the quotes from poets, Tolstoy, other authors and the reprinting of the poems of the man himself. It is a book I have added to my permanent collection because I will read it over and over.

Jenny

Another odd one for me. Very thoughtfully written and researched--story based on a man who spent the last years of his life on 10 acres in coastal Alabama, far away from his 'home' in Idaho. Carefully presented philosophical meanderings on faith, family, death, poetry, and Tolstoy! Although not much like the last book I read (The Elegance of the Hedgehog), this one also has convinced me it is way past time for me to read Anna Karenina.

Kriscrowe

Philosophically this book is interesting. One man's quest to get back his life by giving up material goods and working with his hands to build a shelter that may represent the circle of life. Unfortunately the book was a really slow read.

Susan

One of my favorites. Bought it and sent it to my son to read. His favorite, too. Plan to stop by the town and visit the site, one day when traveling thru to Orange Beach.

Anna

a poignant journey of a terminally ill man who walks and Works bravely and leaves beautiful memories. Makes you want to read Tolstoy because that is the philosophy the character based his life on. Based on a true story.

Mike

Review forthcoming...

Jaci

Given a death sentence (TB, one year to live), Henry Stuart takes the freedom that imminent death gives, leaves his sons, and moves to Fairhope, Alabama, from Idaho, a better climate. He builds a circular, concrete house (still standing) which absorbs him, focuses on the later teachings of Tolstoy, and feels the common mortality which we all share.p.244: "...learn to die in peace. That's what I think is important. My own lessons for that have come from how I treat other people, from what things I give value, but mostly from understanding that in every instance fear is of my own making."Very engaging, written by an independent bookstore owner in Fairhope.

Shannon

This book was given to me as a Christmas present and touted as the givers favorite book. I couldn't put it down. It may be the best book I have ever read. ?? Maybe I just read it at the right time in my life. All I can say is,"Read it!"

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