THE BOOK OF FIRE
By: Christy Lefteri
Published: January 2, 2024
Publisher: Ballantine Books
The Book of Fire is the story Irini writes after her family suffered from a fire set by a man in their village. In alternating chapters, readers jump back and forth from the present day to the day the fire started in their idyllic Greek Island village. After the fire, Irini writes The Book of Fire to record all the details of how this affected their family.
Irini, her husband, Tasso, and their daughter Chara were enjoying the beautiful, yet hot summer day when a fire races through the forest and into the village. As the villagers flee their homes, many, including Irini, Chara, and their dog Rosalie must jump into the sea to survive while Tasso runs to find his father. After hours of treading water and floating Irini, Chara, and Rosalie are finally rescued. They have no idea what has happened to Tasso, his father, or the rest of their village.
Since the fire, her love has become delicate: she lives life as if she is holding a butterfly in her palm afraid that it will die.
After the investigation, it is revealed that Mr. Monk started the fire to make way for a new property he was hoping to build, obviously not intending for the fire to get out of control. Irini comes across Mr. Monk’s path after the fire and what happens between them will forever alter her life. Tasso and Chara must deal with their injuries and losses while Irini must deal with hatred for the man who started the fire.
The dog licked the tears from the girl’s face, and a clear note of laughter escaped from her mouth and flew up to the black sky like a free bird.
The author, Christy Lefteri, also wrote the much-loved book, THE BEEKEEPER OF ALEPPO. While working at a refugee center in Athens in 2017 (which inspired her previous book), she awoke one morning to a fire in a village not too far from her. Hundreds were forced to flee their homes and it made her feel vulnerable, which led her to write this story.
She believes the fires that are happening here, in Australia, in Greece, and in other countries are becoming more common and more intense due to exceptionally dry conditions which makes them beyond control. There is an underlying current in the novel warning about the dangers of climate change and neglecting the land. It doesn’t take away from the story, but it does feel like there is an agenda to the story. Readers will find themes of guilt, trauma, loss, and anxiety in all the characters. The descriptions of the village, the people recovering after the fire, and how bleak the village appears were all easily imagined due to Lefteri’s emotionally evocative storytelling.
As you can imagine, this is a tough story to read. There isn’t a lot of happiness until you get pretty near the end of the novel. But, as Mr. Rogers says, find the helpers in tragedy. Irini has a close friend who helps her through the struggles after the fire. A family takes in Irini, Chara, and Rosalie when they are rescued from the sea and helps them immensely. There is so much sadness on the pages of this novel but it does eventually lead to a hopeful ending full of healing and fresh starts. Like the chestnut tree that survives the fire with one side charred, this family survives and comes out stronger, even though there are lasting scars.
Christy Lefteri is the child of Cypriot refugees. She holds a Ph.D. in creative writing from Brunel University, where she was a lecturer for many years. She is now the author of several books.