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The Secrets of a Fire King

“My father was a man who believed history repeated itself. Not in the large ways of nations and of wars, but in the smaller ways of families. He was a religious man, and he believed that the patterns of the universe were fixed in place, infinite but static, revealed to the devout through the pure concentration of prayer. What is destiny, and what is in the power of a single individual?”

These are a few of the many thought-provoking and necessary questions this elegant, enchanting, and intelligent voice probes in the collection of eleven stories, many of them award-winning, and published in our finest magazines.

The characters in these stories are often separated from the mainstream—a juggler and a trapeze artists, a daughter whose mother is a public evangelist waging a war aginst sin, a cleaning woman whose life is inexplicably tied to Marie Curie’s. The stories they in habit 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 destruction.

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.




I lived in Southeast Asia and Japan for five years, teaching in a wide variety of situations and traveling whenever I had the chance. Many of the stories in The Secrets of a Fire King grew directly or indirectly out of my experiences in Asia. “Aristotle’s Lantern,” for instance, is set on a beautiful island off the coast of Malaysia where I used to go snorkeling. “Sky Juice” began when I read a newspaper article about mail order brides and tried to imagine how my own culture might seem to someone in that powerless situation. “Rat Stories” grew out of a conversation I had over drinks with a group of long-time expatriates. The framing story I made up entirely, but the rat stories were true–the one about the oven was, anyway, because it happened to me.

I wrote some of these stories once I’d returned to the US, but with a new and perspective on the world. When an American friend married his Japanese love and moved with her to a small southern town, “Spring, Mountain, Sea” began. I started thinking about “The Story of My Life” when protestors blocked the driveway of a Midwestern clinic by having small children lie down across the driveway, an action that seemed—and still seems—terribly strange. “A Gleaming in the Darkness” grew from my life-long fascination with Marie Curie. And “Thirst” was that rarest of stories, one that came to me almost fully formed, inexplicably there one day, after I’d been swimming in the sea and reached for a glass of water.




“Stunning. . .[Edwards’s] sinuous prose and endless empathy work their spell. . .Radiant, original, and passionate, these are memorable stories.”

—Andrea Barrett, author of Ship Fever

“The Secrets of a Fire King gives eloquence to their astonishing range of discoveries and leaves the reader entranced.”

—Nina Sonenberg, The New York Times Book Review

“These lives are exotic; they are electric with risk, violence, and sorrow. And we will remember them.”

—Frederick Busch

“Impeccable, a treasure. . .[Edwards] shows herself to be a fully realized writer. . . Edwards’s brilliance is evident in the way she constructs a story.”

—Patricia Lear, Chicago Tribune

“Striking. . .powerful.”

—Amanda Heller, The Boston Globe

“The Secrets of a Fire King is a brilliant collection. Its range of deeply felt characters alone out to inspire in a very broad audience the conviction that the short story form is now safely in the nurture of a very gifted and compassionate young master.

—James A. McPherson

“This collection is rich with subtle wisdom. Kim Edwards is a penetrating writer and in every story gives us the opportunity to glimpse—and comprehend—the elusive mysteries of love.”

—Joanna Scott

“Ambitious and moving. . . Edwards writes quietly and intelligently. . . Each story here is finely crafted and deeply felt.”

—Jane McCafferty, Pittsburgh Post Gazette

“The Secrets of a Fire King is the work of a thoughtful writer with an elegant style. . .a talented new storyteller.”

—Tom Wilhelmus The Hudson Review

“Kim Edwards has not only a gift for storytelling, but something far more rare—an interesting mind. I enjoyed her subtle characters, her unusual settings, and the risky and perilous situations that propel these skillful stories. The Secrets of a Fire King is a remarkable and rewarding first collection.”

—Lynn Sharon Schwartz

“Kim Edwards is marvel, an enchanter, a weaver of spells. . .You’ll be unsettled and disarmed, and when you catch your breath, you’ll remember why you came to love stories in the first place.”

—John Dufresne

“Beautifully focused. . .[Edwards’s] tales read like the work of a wise traveler who returns home with uncommon souvenirs from other lands.”

Publisher’s Weekly