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The Poet of Tolstoy Park: A Novel [Kindle Edition]

Sonny Brewer
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (49 customer reviews)

Print List Price: $16.00
Kindle Price: $9.99
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Sold by: Random House LLC

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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.

From the Hardcover edition.

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

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.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

First-novelist Brewer chronicles the real-life journey of Henry Stuart, who, in 1925 at the age of 67, is diagnosed with consumption and told he only has a year to live. Henry decides to leave his home in Idaho and bid his two grown sons and best friend good-bye before his decline begins. Henry chooses a small plot of land in Fairhope, Alabama, as his final residence, and he corresponds with a man named Peter Stedman in order to get the supplies to build a house. On the train to Alabama, Henry gives his shoes away to a porter and determines to live out the rest of his days in solitude. But life might have other plans for him: on the final leg of his journey he meets a friendly schoolteacher named Kate, and Peter also seeks to develop a rapport with Henry. Henry tries to shut them all out until one life-altering night gives him a new perspective. Fans of quiet, philosophical novels will find much to enjoy in Henry's musings and revelations. Kristine Huntley
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

Product Details

  • File Size: 434 KB
  • Print Length: 304 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 034547631X
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books (March 1, 2005)
  • Sold by: Random House LLC
  • Language: English
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #327,255 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
26 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars QUIET BOOK OF A QUIET MAN - A VERY GOOD READ! March 14, 2005
Publisher's Weekly, et al, above have given a good summation of the book (kind of sort of) above, so I won't go into that. I will say that I enjoyed this one a lot. The author's wonderful style/syntax are from another day. They are quite reminiscent of the writings of David Grayson (Ray Stannard Baker). Mr. Brewer gives us a wonderful collection of characters, drifting through the life of Henry Stewart, a very real person, so I understand. I think it is important to note and remember the age of the man being written about here. So much written today about men and women in advanced age is rather depressing, at the very least, but here we have wonderful book of hope and one of more realism as to the aging process. Being of "advanced age" myself, I rather like this. Like a previous reviewer, I would have loved to have visited with Henry (more to listen than to talk) and am sure I would have been in line to sign his guest book. I very much recommend this one for any person wanting a nice quiet read, full of thought and one that is very well written. I do hope we get more from this author. Thank you Mr. Brewer!
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30 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Tale of a Barefoot Prophet March 14, 2005
I can hardly keep my eyes open this morning, as I pulled a rare late-nighter reading this awesome, inspiring, beautifully written novel.

This is the tale of Henry James Stuart, who when he heard that he was dying of consumption and had only a year to live, decided to leave the cold climate of Idaho for Fairhope, Alabama. His wife had died a few years before and his two sons were grown, so Henry was itching for some adventure in the last days of his life, and he also didn't want to burden his sons with having to care for him. Henry is a practical, no-nonsense, seminary-educated disciple of Tolstoy, Black Elk and Chief Seattle, albeit a quiet, unassuming man whose simple life spoke much louder than his words. In magical, luminous words, he brings to life his hilltop on Mobile Bay where, when inspired by watching a pair of Ospreys build their nest, he decides to build a circular house. In struggling to come to terms with his impending death, he instead, discovers life and how to live it.

This is a must-read and a must-own tome! I plan to read it over and over again. Thank you, Mr. Brewer, for such a magnificant work of literature!!!
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This book is a treasure, of writing and ideas. July 11, 2005
By Jay
I loved this book, and for many reasons. It is finely written and nicely conceived. It honors reflection and solitude, in ways our modern society has largely ignored. It pays homage to the importance of community, at a time when too many of us fly about in frenzied and hurried fashion, self-absorbed. It values a life of simplicity, much like Thoreau fashioned on Walden Pond. Finally, it shines a glorious light on courage and resilience in the autumn and winter of one's days, that time when we face our mortality.

Henry Stuart is quirky and independent, hermetic yet endearing, thoughtful and inclusive of others, despite his intentions otherwise. He cherishes honest and thoughtful interaction with others. He'll grant others their oddities if only they'll grant him his.

Like another lingering, sauntering work, "Cold Mountain," we know where the story is going and enjoy the telling for what it is, a poetic and reflective journey lived one day at a time, one task at a time, offered like a hymn of praise.

I savored the language and the thought, often reading a half-dozen pages and putting the book down so that I could ruminate properly, much as Stuart would do. This is one of those books in my library that I'll treasure, often running my fingers down its spine and smiling as I enjoy a moment of memory and the anticipation of reading it again.

My hat's off to Sonny Brewer for making the time to craft such a fine novel. He has brought credit to himself and Fairhope in the process. He loves words and books, writing and ideas, Fairhope and community -- that's obvious. I'm grateful that he shared so generously.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Barefoot Poet March 21, 2005
If you are looking for a book to savor, buy The Poet of Tolstoy Park. The protagonist, Henry Stuart, teaches us about living and dying when he leaves his old life in Idaho and moves to Fairhope, Alabama. Henry learns to live in the moment while he builds a round hut, sets privacy-boundaries with his new friends (an ongoing battle in most of our lives), and does what he loves most: reads, writes, and weaves. And he does it all without his boots! Along the way, Henry's health improves, his friendships deepen, and the barefoot poet finds peace in dying.

Sonny Brewer has written a beautiful story and, like a poet, has given his readers plenty to ponder.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
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.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Memorable haunting book
Beautiful novel, a true story of a very special man. With terminal cancer diagnosis, Henry Stuart sells his home, buys (sight unseen) a piece of land in Alabama and sets out to... Read more
Published 3 days ago by Procraster
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
great read, great story. fast ship.
Published 20 days ago by scott Strait
5.0 out of 5 stars ... my list of favorites It is one of those beautifully written...
This book found its way near the top of my list of favorites It is one of those beautifully written treasures that captures the language of the day exquisitely and the strength of... Read more
Published 20 days ago by Richard Parker
5.0 out of 5 stars A New Life Gives Life.
Sonny Brewer's THE POET OF TOLSTOY PARK is our book club selection for this month and after a long dry spell of reading books I had little interest in this title was a delight of... Read more
Published 3 months ago by Nash Black
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
great story based on a real person. Good words to live by
Published 4 months ago by gary
4.0 out of 5 stars fairhope fun
obviously hasnt been a best seller but worth the read, especially if you know fairhope
Published 4 months ago by barbara goda
4.0 out of 5 stars The Poet Reader Finds Diamonds
This lovely book is astonishing on many levels. A story for everyone, the reader journeys with its protagonist as he masters his own journey toward death, not something for which... Read more
Published 4 months ago by Sarah Larson
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Beautifully written. Probably not everyone's cup of tea, but it was mine.
Published 4 months ago by lindsaybreeden
4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating Read
I loved this book. It is interesting, the central character is fascinating to get to know, as he progresses through his illness and recovery. Read more
Published 9 months ago by Madge W. Brown
4.0 out of 5 stars Slow-paced but a worthwhile read
An exploration of the meaning and purpose of life as the strong-willed protagonist confronts death and what it means to be a part of a community. Read more
Published 10 months ago by Bruce Meredith
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More About the Author

Sonny Brewer is a writer and editor, and founder of Over the Transom Bookstore in Fairhope, Alabama. His novels include The Poet of Tolstoy Park, A Sound Like Thunder, and The Widow and the Tree. Cormac-The Tale of a Dog Gone Missing is mostly a true story of losing his Golden Retriever and finding him a month later, 1200 miles from home, neutered and up for adoption on the internet.

Sonny founded Over the Transom Bookstore in Fairhope and its annual literary conference, Southern Writers Reading. He is also founder of the non-profit Fairhope Center for Writing Arts.

The Poet of Tolstoy Park and A Sound Like Thunder, Sonny's first two books, painted a historical backdrop of the author's bayfront hometown of Fairhope, Alabama. The Poet of Tolstoy Park was set in the 1920s, and A Sound Like Thunder in the 1940s. A present day Fairhope novel, The Widow and the Tree, is a fable-istic tale of a 500-year-old oak tree presiding at the intersection of lives and emotions in Coastal Alabama. The book is based on a true story, and actual news accounts of events surrounding the intentional killing some twenty years ago of Inspiration Oak, a champion Live Oak near Magnolia Springs can still be found on the internet. The cover art for The Widow and the Tree is an original wood engraving by celebrated artist Barry Moser.

Sonny edits the anthology Stories from the Blue Moon Cafe, published now and then by MacAdam/Cage. The fifth volume in the Blue Moon Cafe series is published under the title, A Cast of Characters and Other Stories.

Sonny spent three minutes of his fifteen-minute allotment of fame when he got some press in the New York Times for wearing a seersucker suit while riding his Harley, with a front story about Henry Stuart's hundred-year old odd round house of hand-poured concrete that was the basis for his novel, The Poet of Tolstoy Park.

A children's book called Rembrandt the Rocker, which Sonny self-published, you can sometimes find on the used book market illustrated by the author. If you're in the mood for some dime-store philosophy, look among the out-of-print titles for A Yin for Change.
Sonny also composed a ghost-written biography of Clarence Darrow.

Sonny is the former editor-in-chief of Mobile, Alabama's city magazine, Mobile Bay Monthly; he also published and edited The Eastern Shore Quarterly magazine and edited Red Bluff Review. He was a reporter on his college newspaper, and co-edited The Southern Bard literary magazine at the University of South Alabama.

Sonny's training as a writer began with his first real job at 15, where he flipped burgers as a short-order cook at Woody's Drive-In in Millport, Alabama. His story-telling education continued as service station attendant, pants folder, folk singer, used car salesman, sailor and electronics technician in the U.S. Navy, tugboat deckhand, traveling used tire salesman, carpenter, building contractor, real estate salesman, purveyor of collectible automobiles, magazine editor, newspaper columnist, teacher, lecturer, and coffeehouse manager. Sonny knuckled down in there somewhere and collected a couple of college degrees, which might or might not have helped. He built a cabin on Fish River in Lower Alabama recently and is proud that he ran the wiring and the plumbing without major incident or injury.

Knowing that a writer never lets the truth stand in the way of a good story, Sonny believes he is missing some critical experience in embellishment: He has not yet made a bid for political office nor preached a tent revival--though, regarding the latter, he has always hankered to do so, choosing not to, however, under threat of divorce.

Sonny is married to Diana, and has two sons, John Luke and Dylan, and a daughter Emily.


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