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

Nancy Chappell

A lovely, sweet read about an eccentric, thoughtful, kind man. Reminded me of some of the better parts of my ex husband. His love of Tolstoy and questioning of organized religion were appreciated. Based on a true character. Thanks, Sonny Brewer.


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.


This was a very grown up book and it took me a long time to finish. Tolstoy wasn't a page-turner . . . it's like when I try to read a "classic" piece of literature, I don't find myself really enjoying it all that much while I'm doing it but I'm always glad I did when I am done.


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.


I'll rewrite the review once I re-read this book. However, I find Sonny Brewer, new on the author scene, to be totally engrossing. His descriptions are so natural and wonderful that you feel like you lived the book rather than just read it. I picked this book to read together with a friend this summer. Although she ended up hating it, it's another illustration of how different authors reach peaople in different ways. I liked this book so much, I put an order in for his second book "A Sound Like Thunder" before it was released. I've told my friend she picks the next book we read together. Life is good! I'm still savoring this book the second time through, enjoying it even more.


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.


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.


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.


Review forthcoming...


this is the best single book I've read all year---Fairhope, AL author Sonny Brewer, who is also Rick Bragg's editor, and owner of Over the Transom bookstore, is one helluva writer and brings to life the legendary hermit of Fairhope, who lived his final days in the eccentric artist enclave on Mobile Bay. full of poetic philosophy about life, love, death and illness. Highly recommended.


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.

Lynn Wilson

A lovely character study. Sort of a modern day Thoreau.

Mark Pearce

This is a quietly written book that gets inside you. Sonny has a great writing style that captivated me and inspired me to visit Henry Stewarts home in Fairhope, Alabama. (A long trip from the Isle of Man but worth the detour). Henry was a stubborn Englishman which appealed to me.It is a fascinating story based on fact which lifts the spirits. Really enjoyed the book.

Rob Jackson

A real treat and a glimpse into Henry George, a proponent of the "single tax" system in economics. Leo Tolstoy, a fan of George and his work was the framework of this book. A story of a simple man with a clear path of how to die was in fact based on a true story in Fairhope, Alabama where the author still resides. I do recommend this book and I should mention I, too, reside from small town, Alabama.


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.

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