The Book Of Fire by Christy Lefteri Delves into Pain and Catharsis : Book ReviewDiscover the powerful journey of pain and catharsis in 'The Book of Fire' by Christy Lefteri. Read the full book review on Frontlist.
on Sep 26, 2023
The Book Of Fire is a story about the dying embers of morality and hope in the aftermath of a disaster. The plot follows an Anglo-Greek family as they deal with the trauma of a forest fire that destroys their hamlet. Narrator Irini tries in vain to lift her husband, Tasso, out of his sadness and encourage him to be positive for the sake of their daughter, Chara.
Property developer Trachonides, nicknamed Mr Monk by the townsfolk due to his reclusiveness, causes the fire out of avarice.
He aims to burn 2ha of land in order to construct a boutique hotel, but the fire destroys 121,400ha of forest. The physical experience of the fire is seared into the protagonists' psyches, as they continue to sense and experience heat even after the calamity.
When Irini encounters Mr. Monk, she explains how her "skin burned and I began to sweat as if the fire was all around me." Looking at him made it difficult to breathe. I was breathing in heavy black smoke."
When Irini runs into her acquaintance Mrs Gataki at the Kafeneon, the latter is always fanning herself with a crime novel, despite the fact that "it wasn't hot."
Polysyndeton, a literary method that employs repeated conjunctions, colours Irini's thoughts.
She recalls the forest's liveliness, when it was alive with "birds and rabbits and hares and hedgehogs and moles and rats." Chara used to have "beautiful and plump and soft and squidgy" hands.
Such lines elicit a sense of unbridled rage at Mr Monk's acts, as well as terrible regret for the world taken from her.
As looks conveyed between Irini and the other villagers are enough to develop trust and friendship, the horrific memory of fire becomes part of the community's communal memory.
"I was safe here," Irini explains in the Kafeneon, where the survivors meet every day for lunch. "Everyone is aware” to cope with the catastrophe, she keeps a notebook called The Book Of Fire, in which she chronicles her experiences from the beginning of the fire until the present.
Christy Lefteri, a London-born author, advocates for the therapeutic catharsis that art provides in times of grief by characterising Irini's loss as a "fairy tale with a happy ending."
Aside from writing, Irini finds refuge in other types of creativity. She performs a song taught to her by her father on the bouzouki, a Greek instrument, and characters are transported back to the lush, unburnt forest by Tasso and Chara's paintings.
Given the recent wildfires in Greece, the story's undertone of climate change is especially relevant.
The author visited the country for research in August 2021 and stated in an opinion piece for The Guardian newspaper that the trip had a profound impact on her: "I wanted to hear people's stories, to understand what it meant to be displaced by environmental disaster."
Lefteri is well-known for infusing current events into her novels. Her 2019 novel, The Beekeeper Of Aleppo, delves into the refugee problem caused by Syria's ongoing civil war.
It earned the Aspen Words Literary Prize in 2020, which is given to a piece of fiction that addresses a critical contemporary subject.
However, this new work fails to make a compelling moral point.
Mr. Monk, according to Lefteri, should not carry personal responsibility for igniting the fire. Instead, she accuses the capitalist system that drove Mr. Monk to cause the fire and blames the government and firefighters for being slow to respond to the fire.
The fact that anyone may have ignited the fire is not an excuse. To pardon Mr. Monk is to diminish the villagers' trauma and to imply that feel-good morality triumphs over justice.
Despite this slight flaw, the novel depicts a heartwarming portrait of a family overcoming suffering through art.