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February1999
The Secrets of a Fire King
by Kim Edwards

Reviews

From the Publisher:
The characters in these stories are often separated from the mainstream—a juggler and a trapeze artist, a daughter whose mother is a public evangelist waging a war against sin, a cleaning woman whose life is inexplicably tied to Marie Curie’s. The stories they inhabit transcend the barriers of time to explore the universally driving force of our experience: the magnitude of human love. In “Spring, Mountain, Sea,” a young American brings his Korean bride home after serving in the war, and finds himself isolated from both his own culture and the culture of his new family. In “Gold,” a Malaysian rubber tapper becomes obsessed with the possibility of becoming as wealthy as the foreign landowners who visit his village, and in his quest for gold nearly destroys the enduring relationships that have shaped his life. In the title story, the narrator—a fire-eater in a circus—shows a careless disregard for a boy who comes to learn his trade and as a consequence brings about his own downfall. Taking us to exotic and remote places in America, Europe, and Asia, The Secrets of a Fire King is at once magical and profound, marking the extraordinary debut of a new voice in American fiction.

From Library Journal:
Many of the award-winning stories in this first collection feature strong, pragmatic women as protagonists, usually motivated by love in its broadest sense: A 19-year-old finds hidden strength after skydiving with an unstable boyfriend; a lonely, uprooted Asian woman makes a life in America; the cleaning woman of a famous scientist idolizes her employer despite suffering physically because of his experiments; a wife connects best with her husband during the time of their greatest challenge. Edwards utilizes her perceptual ability and keen eye for detail to delineate believable characters, many of whom are facing unique challenges. Their haunting situations are effectively complemented by unusual settings in Asia, America and Europe. Recommended for all literary collections.

—Ellen R. Cohen, Rockville, Maryland

From Scott Veale, The New York Times Book Review:
The Secrets of a Fire King gives eloquence to [the characters’] astonishing range of discoveries, and leaves the reader entranced.

From Publisher’s Weekly:
While many debuts rehash the author’s personal life, Pushcart Prizewinner Edwards presents a first collection of 11 short stories noteworthy for the range of their settings—America, Europe, Asia—and for the scope of the author’s impressive imagination. Edwards uses the elements (fire, air, water, earth and metal) symbolically to ground her stories as characters move through the various landscapes she has created. An adolescent girl skydives during an emotional crisis; a pair of acrobats works out their private and professional balancing acts; and Madame Curie’s cleaning woman becomes fascinated with radium. In the title story, a young carny fire-eater gets into a love quadrangle involving a revival preacher, a virginal country girl and her young brother, but the emotional climax is more than just the expected conflagration. On a quieter note, “The Invitation” is a beautifully focused tale set in Malaysia, where the societal and the personal worlds clash. Though the book is full of invention, the narrative tone remains strangely constant throughout the stories, no matter the setting or the speaker. Not all of these stories fly, but when Edwards is at her best, her tales read like the work of a wise traveler who returns home with uncommon souvenirs from other lands.

SEE ALSO:
“Surprises and Consolation Prizes”
by Nina Sonenberg
New York Times, April 20, 1997

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