The Poet of Tolstoy Park

The Poet of Tolstoy Park


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The Poet of Tolstoy Park by Sonny Brewer, Donal Donnelly

“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 DeepSouth, 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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781419362071
Publisher: Recorded Books, LLC
Publication date: 03/24/2006

About the Author

SONNY BREWER owns Over the Transom Bookshop in Fairhope and is board chairman of the nonprofit Fairhope Center for the Writing Arts. He is the former editor in chief of Mobile Bay Monthly; he also published and edited Eastern Shore Quarterly magazine, edited Red Bluff Review, and was founding associate editor of the weekly West Alabama Gazette. Brewer is the editor of the acclaimed annual three-volume anthology of Southern writing, Stories from the Blue Moon Cafe.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Poet of Tolstoy Park 4.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I don't even know how I obtained this book but it has become my favorite. I read it in one sitting and have recommended it to many people. a couple of book clubs have added it to their list because of my recommendation. It was a moving book for me. Entertaining and tearful. Loved it. It is the only book that I have read a second time.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I loved this book so much I went looking for the author's website and sent him a note. I figured doing so might serve a double purpose: 1) let the writer know his work was enjoyed, 2) cast a vote for the values that drive the story -- such as I see them. Here's what I had to say Sonny Brewer: Just wanted to say that 'The Poet of Tolstoy Park' has rendered me incapable of starting another book. I finished on Saturday and have since been unable to let myself be drawn away from Henry Stuart, Tolstoy Park, and Fairhope. 'The Confessions of Max Tivoli' sits on my bedside table, and though I'd been very eager to read it, I now find I haven't the will. I want to savor your book awhile longer. By my reckoning, such as its worth, 'The Poet of Tolstoy Park' is a thing of beauty, grace, and wisdom. And humor, too. In fact, I'm puzzled that the reviews I've read, both editorial and reader reviews, fail to mention the delightful humor. I'm even more puzzled, however, that I haven't read one review that mentions the 'community' theme. That we are all connected, and that in our acknowledgment of our connectedness, and in our service to one another, we can best live a good life and thus best die, seems to me the heart of the story. I suppose we all see in the world around us what we see in our heads, and I've just finished writing a novel in which community is a central theme, so it may be my unique perspective to see it as the heart of your book . . . But surely Henry's conviction that humankind's hope lies not in Christianity, nor any institutionalized religion or social philosophy, Tolstoy's included, but in our Christian treatment of one another, was not an insignificant bit of character detail. I digress. Thank you for the blessedly uplifting read. I've often said that reading Wendell Berry's novels and stories is like eating a bowl of the most delicious, nutrious soup ever cooked up. Early on in your book I decided that reading it was like eating a slice of fresh-and-warm-from-the-oven homemade wholegrain bread, healthy but also heavenly tasty, spread with good butter and drizzled with honey, just here and there so bites alternate between honeyed and honey-free. That notion stayed with me throughout, but it also felt a smidge short of the whole truth. Then I reached your passage about Henry's strawberry beds and I thought, 'That's it! This book is like a slice of wonderful bread (as described above) accompanied by fresh strawberries straight from the garden.' I even imagined eating these berries and bread (reading your book) while sitting on the side of one of Henry's raised beds, basking in the sun. That's what I had to say to Mr. Brewer. To readers I say, 'Buy this book and know that beauty and goodness are alive and well in this sweet old troubled world.'
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Was very interesting and introspective
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
gs0429 More than 1 year ago
I loved the main character. Sonny Brewer's writing style is excellent.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Whether your struggle is with death and dying, family detachment, personal adventure and renewal - this book has all this and so much more. While its themes will likely resonate primarily with those of us in mid-life, there is wisdom and a wonderful reading experience here for anyone. You owe it to yourself to read this gem of a book.