“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.
A dying man's decision to move from Idaho to Alabama becomes a quixotic spiritual journey in Brewer's ruminative, idiosyncratic first novel, based on a true story. In 1925, widowed Henry Stuart learns that he has tuberculosis and will probably be dead within a year. Stuart's initial reaction is optimistic resignation, as he regards his illness as a final philosophical journey of reconciliation, one that sends him back through the writings of his beloved Tolstoy and other literary and spiritual figures to find solace and comfort. Despite the protests of his two sons and his best friend, he decides to move to the progressive town of Fairhope, Ala. There, he begins to build a round, domed cottage where he seeks to "learn in solitude how to save myself" and earns himself the sobriquet "the poet of Tolstoy Park." The plot, such as it is, runs out of steam when Brewer makes an ill-advised decision to jump forward in time in the last chapters, but the heady blend of literary and philosophical references and some fine character writing make this a noteworthy debut.