Obsessed, crazed with grief at the loss of his wife, Joel, now living a reclusive life in a farm commune in Canada, learns of the death of his dearest friend, Aidan. He is compelled to journey to an island in Greece, Khería, where Aidan had swum off into a storm and drowned. Joel’s is a pilgrimage, seeking answers to doubts and guilt about their friendship and the motivations and circumstances of the death, seeking release from grief in atonement and resolution.
The novel traces the lives of the two men in Homeric journeys conducted largely in Joel’s dream-world conversations with spirit visitations from his past. Over all is the presence of a foreboding inaccessible rock of an islet, Khímaera, Aidan’s destination when he drowned—a fateful mythic monster, a chimeric illusion. The extraordinary, intertwined, sometimes ambiguous lives of these two men are compelling stories, spanning much of the twentieth century: childhoods in England and New England; frontline soldiers in World War II; Greece with its civil war, its cruelties, its beauty, its crass materialism; brief years in US government service; rebellious, seeking alternative lives in Italy, England, in the US and Canada, in Greece; lives of tragic loves—and, in the end, of profound reward.
Fateful, Odyssean stories, their resolutions evolve from a despairing elegiac dream-world into hopeful reality. Stories told in haunting, poetic prose, a unique style acclaimed in Cabot’s earlier novels.
"The Isle of Khería" has been awarded the 2012 Independent Publishers Literary Fiction Silver Award. It is being translated into Greek by Ismene Kapantae for publication by Hestia Publishers & Booksellers, Athens, Greece in 2015.
"Robert Cabot’s masterful The Isle of Khería interrogates the past, that mysterious land, which always beckons in the distance. Can we ever really know it, or the people who come in and out of our lives? Is it only after we lose someone that we finally, perhaps too late, consider that person's character and story? Reminiscent of Fowles' The Magus, Davies' The Manticore, and Kazantzakis' Zorba, Cabot weaves narratives of Greece’s past and present with the gossamer threads of his prose. His descriptions of the natural world are spellbinding—the piping of the goatherd, the spittle bugs on the golden rod—and one of the joys of reading this book." —Eric Utne, author, founder of Utne Reader
"The Isle of Kheria transmutes the leaden horrors of the 20th century into elegiac gold dust. I'm left with that hushed fragile feeling that comes from stirring up rarely experienced emotions. A story crafted of myriad glimpses of an intimate world, poetic literary pointillism. A masterpiece." – Robert Fuller, former president Oberlin College, best-selling author of Somebodies and Nobodies
"This powerful story of life-long friendship between two men is alive with vibrant details, and told in an extraordinarily musical, sonorous, evocative voice. Cabot puts his characters against a rich background of human striving and natural tumult. He fearlessly shows how a loving man can be powerless to save his best friend, or anyone, from his own fatal search for a mystical answer to the soul's questions." Susan Cheever
"In 1989 Robert Cabot heard the terrible news that his best friend, the writer and Hellenophile Kevin Andrews had drowned in wild seas off a remote Greek Island. More than two decades after this tragedy Cabot has with rich, honest prose conjured up an extraordinary book that merges biography, legend and myth to recreate and continue loves, lives and conversations. A host of characters, real and imaginary join in the Homeric discourse as Cabot leads us a merry dance from idyllic childhood to the horrors and inanities of war, from the forgotten battles of the Aleutian islands campaign to Northern Italy, the Ardennes and the crossing of the Rhine. Suddenly we are in peacetime and the mysteries of sexuality, delicately exploring love and dreams in prose as stunning as the Aegean light. We tumble through the cold war, marriage, children and separation, Vietnam, the colonels in Greece, the counterculture, the madness of consumption and the search for material wealth. Traversing this turbulant landscape we are comforted by the tenderness of love of one man for another until finally there is peace, a resolution of grief, and the glimpse of a hopeful future. —Roger Jinkinson , author of American Ikaros: The Search for Kevin Andrews
"Cabot’s latest (after That Sweetest Wine) follows the decades-long peregrinations of Joel Brewster and Aidan Allard through college, the battlefields of WWII, the Greek civil war, memory, hopes, and the fraught landscape of the heart. Still reeling from his wife’s death, Joel—now living in Canada—hears of Aidan’s tragic drowning off the coast of his adopted home of Khería in the Aegean Sea and decides to travel there to uncover the truth behind his death. During his journey, the history of their relationship is told through the points of view of characters living and dead, making for a rich—though often baffling—portrait of a complicated friendship." -- Publishers Weekly
"Some readers may shy away from Robert Cabot’s choppy, cursory, incomplete writing style, but I recommend leaping onto its back. Ride unsaddled by conventional dialogue and creaking exposition! Gallop away, greedy for each lyrical phrase and evocative scene within its pages. See, smell, feel – no, revel in the exhilaration that is The Isle of Kheria – a tribute to a friendship spanning most of the twentieth century, from World War II and Vietnam to the seven-year Junta in Greece and the counterculture of the sixties and later. The friendship between staid Joel Brewster and flamboyant Aidan Allard, notable mostly for awkward reunions after long separations, begins in college. It ends with Joel visiting Aidan’s grave on a barren hillside surrounded by “dry stalks of asphodel – kheria, candles to the dead, the islanders say.” At the grave, Joel is visited by the shades of Aidan and the women they have known – mothers, wives, daughters – who bare their souls, bear witness to the secrets they withheld from each other, the opportunities they missed. A poignant touch: photos of the two tokens that symbolize Joel’s opposing loves serve as motifs to preface the three partitions of The Isle of Kheria. An enthralling read." Historical Novel Society
"When those close to you in life leave it forever, it can be difficult to shoulder the burden. The Isle of Kheria is a novel chronicling the burden of Joel Brewster, mourning the loss of his wife and suspecting that his closest friend chose suicide by drowning. Looking for grace and something that matters in his life, Joel goes to Kheria and finds much change in the matter. The Isle of Kheria is a strong addition to general fiction collections." -- Midwest Book Review
Richard Wakefield, Seattle Times
The titular fictional island is named for the Greek word for "candle," and another fictional island that figures prominently in this tale of yearning is Khimaera, from the Greek word that gives us "chimera," which means something deeply desired but forever out of reach. On these islands, and in Athens and Rome, in World War II combat in France and Germany, and coast to coast in the United States, two men, Joel and Aidan, struggle, sometimes together but often separately, to create a world that is more just and more open to the complexities of the human heart.
For all its vivid scenery, the story is largely interior, tracing Joel and Aidan's lifelong emotional bond. Through decades of wives, lovers and children, each remains the other's lodestar. As various characters take turns adding their perspectives, we come back over and over to Joel's memories of Aidan: "And the you of your Aegean idyll in the arms of your Dimitra. The you my companion of Pindos mountain adventures. The dancing you, the laughing you." And in close counterpoint come Aidan's responses: "Always the flood of stories, but, Joel, they are more than memory should have to bear."
These living, passionate voices are candles that flicker against the gathering darkness; they illuminate the distant outline of an unreachable island where another life is possible, one safe, as Aidan puts it, from "A missile race, pre-emptive strike, fire storms and nuclear winter ... . Escalating populations, pollutions, corruptions, severe depletions, fifty wars at once." And a life open, at last, to love.
The Mediterranean island villagers in “Breath of the Earth” recall the joys and misery of past lives, the heroes of battle against pirates and harsh gods, no less than their natural world now slipping away. Set largely in New England, in “Rat in the Boardroom” the founder of an economic empire lies abandoned in his dotage on his sick bed, possessing a blindness which will afflict his descendants. In the final novella, “Touch of Dust”, set largely in Italy, a man’s life is played out against a chorus of his mother, his father, his wives. Free-spirited youth, soldier in the Second World War, painter, sailor outcast, lover—he was all of these and none of these, and yet...
“ ...an exemplary trio of novellas, each occupied with the theme of reconciliation to oneself and one’s losses, presented in often stunning prose.”
“Robert Cabot’s new book is as good a piece of writing as anything coming out of the United States. ‘That Sweetest Wine’ deserves and surely will get wide readership.”
“ ...primarily concerned with the twin realms of memory and regret... a mourning song for an all but forsaken natural world... a beauteous tribute to the natural world.”
“ ...with gratitude for the beautiful lyricism of your fine work.”
“Intensely dramatic, lyrically expressive and suffused with passionate feeling... Cabot’s prose shimmers with poetic imagery... ”
Independent Publishers 2000 Finalist Book Award
Kirkus Reviews Book of the Month
This classic story, set in the high Joshua Tree desert, the mountains of northern California, and Death Valley, captures in a unique way the compelling romance and tragedy of the old and the new West. “Desert rat” Will Spear, prospector, rancher, outlaw, living for years with the Walapai Indians, befriends Lily, a California girl of the 1960’s. Their voices mix with those of the Joshua tree standing by Will’s Mohave desert homestead.
“A gentle, musical, multilayered novel which draws deeply, intimately, and authentically on the locales of Arizona, the northern California mountains, Death Valley, and above all the high Mohave desert.
“The story of 'The Joshua Tree' is presented in a unique style achieved through the voices of Will Spear (based on the legendary Bill Keys whose grave is in the Joshua Tree National Park) and Lily, a 1960’s California girl.
“Cabot sees people in depth and time as souls alive in the wandering generations, the waves of migration, settlement, conquest, and loss, as characters caught in the larger cycles of nature, much as plants that flower and send their seeds on the winds of time and chance.
“Such a view of American Man and woman, as being in and of nature, is anti-establishment in that Cabot refuses to accept the illusions that fixed institutions and family hierarchies construct around themselves. ‘The Joshua Tree’ is created as a visionary monologue singing and speaking out of the profound depths of nature. It is thus a regenerative, optimistic, and hopeful novel, and the voice that imparts the ground tone is the meditation of the Joshua tree itself, standing as witness to the living creatures of the high desert.
“Of great interest is that Cabot has taken a great risk in attempting this novel as a poem of life; such work can easily plunge into bathos if there is hesitation, loss of control, or preciosity. What keeps the work marvelously together is the author’s mastery of words, of places, times, his sense of present human reality and possibility—and of the temporal super-reality that pervades it.
“Cabot knows what he wants to say about finding life even in the desert of our days, and he says it with eloquence and love. ‘The Joshua Tree’ has been recognized as an important novel; it is certain to be a lasting one.”
–Jascha Kessler, Professor of Modern Literature, UCLA
“The book is full of loveliness.”
–Richard Bradford, New York Times Book Review
“Cabot writes with stunning power... ”
–Robert Kirsch, Los Angeles Times
“ ...words for us of love and hope... and a gentle warning of the curse that lies upon us all.”
“Pushes back the conventional limits of fiction... an eloquent achievement.”
“A hymn to man’s potentiality and a dirge for what he is... a sensual experience from which deep truths will emerge , if you let them.”
–Mary Snead Bogner, Observer
“An achievement for the art of letters... a book that belongs in print for the sake of the world.”