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A Hundred Fires in Cuba

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In the spring of 1956, a young American photographer falls in love with a Cuban line cook in New York.  They have a ten-week affair which ends when Immigration arrests and deports him, and by then Clare Miller is pregnant.
    Few Americans know the name Camilo Cienfuegos. All Cubans do. He was the most charismatic of Castro’s rebel commanders. But Clare, who never hears from him after he’s deported, believes he has died in Fidel’s invasion of the island. She marries a wealthy Cuban businessman and moves to Cuba with her two-year-old daughter, only to discover that her first love is not only still alive, he’s head of the Cuban Army. Clare knows that Camilo likes to dance and drink. He likes women, and too many women like him. Though his courage is legendary, when he comes to visit at night he’s afraid of his daughter’s moods. He feeds her, he reads to her, he changes her diapers, but for him an all-night march would be easier. Clare worries that he’ll never make a good parent, but she cannot resist him.  

Here's how I came to write the book:

“Thorndike is a talented, experienced writer, and Clare and Camilo especially are fully developed, attractive characters.... A highly recommended rendering of a love affair and mysterious slice of Cuban history.” –Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“The prose is elegantly crafted....A Hundred Fires in Cuba is a sophisticated historical novel that effectively deploys a love triangle to capture the essence of a remarkable figure and the historic period that produced him, laying bare the yearnings of the heart.” —Foreword Reviews

“Thorndike gives us a unique lens into Camilo’s life through his fictional affair with American photographer, Clare Miller. Thorndike dissects the torrid-but-thorny attraction between Clare and Camilo along with Cienfuego’s inner conflict between idealism and the allure of power.... Every page of A Hundred Fires in Cuba breathes with life.” –Raul Ramos y Sanchez, author of The Skinny Years and King Robin.

“In A Hundred Fires in Cuba, John Thorndike has done something remarkable: written a compelling (and thrilling) love story set in the middle of a revolution. Thorndike’s prose is both lyrical and sharp as he navigates a country and a couple in the midst of turmoil and transition. I haven’t enjoyed reading a book this much in a long time.” –Robert Wilder, author of Nickel and Daddy Needs a Drink

“With A Hundred Fires in Cuba, Thorndike explores his great themes: the mother in extremis, the intrigue of a foreign lover (or two), the beloved child, aging men unmoored, and the complications of passion, passion, passion.”  –Ted Conover, author of Coyotes, Newjack: Guarding Sing Sing, and The Routes of Man

“Thorndike weaves a complex love affair into one of the hemisphere’s great dramas, the Cuban Revolution. Evocative prose, timeless conflicts, and an intimate story full of surprises.” –Natalie Goldberg, author of Wild Mind and Let The Whole Thundering World Come Home

“Thorndike’s characters know Havana, New York, and Miami well, and his Caribbean story abounds with righteousness, sex, and love. –Tom Miller, author of Trading with the Enemy: A Yankee Travels through Castro’s Cuba and Cuba, Hot and Cold

“I would like to go to Cuba. Now, with A Hundred Fires in Cuba, I've had my chance through John Thorndike's literary rumba of love and passion amidst the Cuban Revolution.... The dance is easy, intricate, flowing, and sensual, with the tantalizing, wry wisdom that always accompanies John Thorndike's writing.” –Lady Borton, author of Sensing the Enemy and After Sorrow

“John Thorndike brings a resonant emotional sensibility to the days of Clare Miller and her baby girl, Alameda. Thorndike knows that to become a father or mother is a revolution in itself, and projects this against the big screen of political revolution, with its savage and often tragic logic. –Paul Kafka-Gibbons, author of Love [Enter], Dupont Circle, and The Last Murder


The Last of His Mind: A Year in The Shadow of Alzheimer's

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My father, Joe Thorndike, was an independent New Englander, once the managing editor of Life, and the founder of American Heritage and Horizon magazines. At 91, his one great desire was to remain in his own house, even as memory and language deserted him. He had once told me, after a visit to an old friend in a nursing home, “Don’t ever put me in a place like that.” So at the start of 2005, to allow him to stay at home, I left Ohio and moved into his house on Cape Cod. Slowly, in the months that followed, he lost the ability to carry on a conversation, to read a clock, to remember that his pants went on over his underwear.

    His Alzheimer’s grew worse. Sometimes he confused day with night. This reserved and courteous man, who had written three books and edited dozens more, now forgot that he had a toilet, and used the floor instead—or sometimes the water glass on his bedside table. It was a hard and troubling year. The book is grounded in my father’s decline, but my own memories often sweep in, allowing for a kind of impressionistic biography. Sometimes our days were so small I thought I’d come out of my skin. Other times I could see my father as a tragic figure, someone like Milton’s “blind giant,” now bereft of his youthful powers. The more he fell apart, the closer we grew, in ways that didn’t depend on words and memory.

“A beautiful book, this memoir reveals the painful chaos of Alzheimer’s, as well as the strength, faith and unexpected joys that come with caring for a loved one in his last days.” Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“A brave, moving story of a son's devotion to his dying father. Thorndike's prose is serenely beautiful and his patience in caring for an Alzheimer's patient is extremely admirable. An affecting work of emotional honesty and forgiveness.”

Kirkus Reviews

“Here in detail is a story we fear for our loved ones, a story we fear for ourselves. Yet Thorndike also conveys the humor and joy, the contemplation and compassion, and the reconciliation and healing that were part of this journey. The result: The Last of His Mind is both heart-wrenching and heart-warming.”  —Lady Borton, author of After Sorrow: An American Among the Vietnamese

“This book tells a hard story, the relentless decline of a father’s memory and self-awareness. John Thorndike writes a beautiful sentence, a beautiful page, and describes his father’s last year with piercing clarity, but also great warmth. He opens a world we will all have to face.”  —Natalie Goldberg, author of Writing Down the Bones, Wild Mind, and Three Simple Lines

“A gorgeous, expansive book about families—particularly fathers and sons—about marriage, and about the influences that form us and against which we rebel.”  —Ted Conover, author of Newjack, Coyotes, and The Routes of Man

“A really important book: A Baedeker for a generation who, as people live longer and longer, find themselves on a journey they never dreamed of and so never prepared for, caring for elderly parents with deteriorating health and dwindling mental faculties.”  —Nancy Mairs, author of Remembering the Bone House, Waist-High in the World, and A Troubled Guest: Life and Death Stories

"The frankness of this haunting memoir is totally disarming. Thorndike addresses the banalities and small tragedies that attend the great event of a lifetime with an unblinking eye. Told in his luminously clear prose, the plain story of the unraveling of a mind and a life find its way into the heart like our own blood. An important, beautiful book." —Henry Shukman, author of The Lost City and One Blade of Grass

Another Way Home

I was a 24-year-old Peace Corps Volunteer in El Salvador when I met Clarisa, a vibrant and lovely Salvadoran girl, just 19. We fell in love, married, and in 1970 our son Janir was born. For the first year Clarisa was devoted to her baby and rarely left his side. But slowly she began a terrifying slide into schizophrenia, behaving in ways that endangered our son’s life.

Fearing for his safety, I made the wrenching decision to bring Janir back to the United States and raise him alone. Another Way Home is the account of our life together: our tender moments, our pitched battles, our heartbreaking reunions with Clarisa. 

“The directness, the honesty, the terrible plain chant of the narrative stunned me. It will touch many readers, not only fathers and sons, but mothers and, like this reader, grandmothers as well.” —Doris Grumbach, author of Fifty Days of Solitude, Extra Innings, and Coming into the End Zone.

This book sings. It’s a burning, beautiful memoir, rich in anecdote and character, and elegantly written. We need to see fathers in this light–tender, caring, committed.” —Natalie Goldberg, author of Writing Down the Bones, Wild Mind and Three Simple Lines.

“The prose is shapely and elegant, polished to a shine, with never a word out of place or a phrase too many. The scenes are vivid, and the young Janir leaps off the page, willful and giving, sullen and sweet.” —The Chicago Tribune

“An astonishing achievement.., remarkably well written…. It’s a powerful story of three extraordinary people–one doomed to crumble from isolation while two would survive because they constantly reached out for one another.” —The Toronto Sun

“Thorndike’ s captivating memoir is part tender, part terrifying.. . a meditation on parenting, profound, filled with love and compassion.” —The Santa Fe New Mexican

“A beautiful memoir of one parent-child relationship in all its peculiarities.” –The Detroit MetroTimes

“I loved this book. Thorndike writes about what it means to be a father, what love for a son is made of, and–almost verboten in our culture–about emotional intimacy between fathers and sons. This is a stand-out book, courageous, honest, and highly literate.” —Ted Conover, author of Newjack,Coyotes, and Make Way: Dispatches from Six Roads That Are Reshaping Our World.

“A very important book. It articulates beautifully the yearning for fatherhood and the joys and terrors that come when that yearning is ardently pursued.” —Robert Olen Butler, author of They Whisper, A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain, and Intercourse: Stories

“A compelling story, told with great eloquence and sensitivity… A book with a very large heart indeed.” —-Doug Preston, author of The Monster of Florence, Relic and The Lost City of the Monkey God.

“I’m stunned and uplifted by this beautiful book. John Thorndike explores an uncharted domain–the home a father makes for his child. A memoir and a love story, Another Way Home has a lasting place in the literature of our time.” —Paul Kafka-Gibbons, author of Love (Enter), Dupont Circle, and The Last Murder

“A father’s story as fresh as it is fierce. Thorndike tells his tale with the same balance of gentleness and control that he uses in raising his son.” —Mary Morris, author of Nothing to Declare, and A Mother’s Love.

“An elegant memoir…a triumphant narrative of a father and son discovering each other.” —Hilary Masters, author of Last Stands and Home Is The Exile

The Potato Baron

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Austin Pooler farms 1800 acres of land in the northern tip of Maine’s Aroostook County. He’s a Harvard-educated, fourth-generation potato grower, a member of the National Potato Council and “a known fanatic on the subject of tubers.” Austin would never budge from Aroostook County of his own will–but after twenty years of marriage he is uprooted from his land, his heritage and his job by a wife who still loves him, but who wants to leave Maine and their farm. She hopes Austin and their eight-year-old son will join her. “I gave you twenty years here,” she says. “How about giving me ten? Just give me the next ten.”

“A smart, touching and surprisingly funny novel about a 20-year marriage on the brink of collapse.” —The Cleveland Plain Dealer

“Thorndike offers an unabashed good read: exotic travels and love affairs, earthy sex and heart-twisting passages about Austin and Fay’s devotion to their gaptoothed son, Blake. Their feelings shift as they are pulled in different directions, revealing Mr. Thorndike’s sensitivity to the tortuous process of making and unmaking decisions. The novel unfolds with a finely calculated momentum. ‘The Potato Baron’ is an intelligent and high-spirited story. In contrast to much of contemporary fiction, it explores characters who have never lost their connection to their work or to each other–and who, when and who, when these essential ties are threatened, are willing to fight to get them back.” —The New York Times

“John Thorndike’s wonderfully honest, emotionally sensitive second novel is a story about love, marriage, families, growing together, growing apart, and the give-and-take compromises necessary to sustain relationships, even 20-year marriages. What makes this such a powerful and readable novel is Mr. Thorndike’s emotional honesty, a virtue he transfers convincingly to his characters.” —The Atlanta Journal and Constitution

“This is one of those delightfully engrossing novels that one wishes would never end. One of the best yarns written in a long time, by the author of the well-received Anna Delaney’s Child.” –Booklist

“Heartening, rugged, funny, sexy… The Potato Baron contains the most accurate portrayal of married love I’ve read anywhere.” –James Robison, author of The Illustrator

“An absorbing novel of a modern family torn by conflict. The Potato Baron, with its sensitive honest portrayal of male and female psyches and its insight into conflicting loyalties, should establish Thorndike firmly as a person to watch on the literary horizon.” –The Rocky Mountain News

The Potato Baron is a rich find in these dark days for fiction. It’s everything a good novel should be, and author John Thorndike seems incapable of missing a step.”–The Kansas City Star

“Thorndike builds his smoothly-constructed second novel around an 80’s dilemma: in order to keep a marriage together, just how much does a man have to sacrifice for the sake of his wife’s independence? His writing is moving and evocative, especially in the details of the landscapes, both in Aroostook County and Arizona.”–Kirkus Reviews

“These scenes are heart-wrenching reminders that love might not be enough when two partners have conflicting visions of their life. The stubbornness and humanness that Fay and Austin show as they cling to their dreams make this book appealing.” —The Chicago Tribune

“A joy to read.” —The Columbus Dispatch

The Potato Baron explores a universal theme that harkens back to Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, Flaubert‘s Madame Bovary, and even Homer’s Iliad. Thorndike tells a masterful tale. He allows his reader to empathize with both Austin, who loves his life, his wife, his family and the potato itself; and Fay, who loves her husband, her family, but still needs to establish a life of her own.” —Maine Sunday Telegram

Anna Delaney's Child

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My first novel boiled up out of my obsession with loss. My mother had died at 57, and a woman I loved had left me. As a single father of a young boy, I imagined what I felt was the worst loss anyone could know: the death of a beloved child. Anna Delaney has been crushed—but she is a resilient woman who will fight her way back, creating a new life without dishonoring the old.She’s not the only one who struggles. Her mother died a few years earlier, and her father still grieves her passing. And the younger woman he connects with has lost the use of her legs in a climbing accident. For fiction you load the dice and see if your characters can hold up. I think they did.

“A novel of grace and style.” – The Columbus Dispatch

“An affecting first novel. In lyrically powerful prose, Mr. Thorndike deftly explores the ethics of memory, handling his characters’ fears and fallibilities with compassion and understanding, respecting them enough not to provide them with easy consolations.” —The New York Times

“A first novel to linger over. Thorndike writes with a controlled lyricism, and his strong characters have more in common with the men and women of Willa Cather than with the glib, wispy people of much contemporary fiction. Thorndike’s deceptively simple writing chisels out the story with a poet’s exactingness. He makes every word count. This is a terrific novel, with writing to admire, linger over, read aloud, and even reread.” —The Cleveland Plain Dealer

“Modern and ordinary people, made immediate by the author’s insight and his ability to tell us about the way we live now.” –The Chicago Tribune

“Don’t bother wondering if a man can successfully write about a woman and the death of her child. This one can. Thorndike walks the fine line between sentimentality and melodrama with well-placed steps. His characters are rich and well-rounded, their trials and victories moving and believable.” —The Toledo Blade

“Ambitious and daring.” –Los Angeles Times Book Review

“A powerful story of love and recovery.” —The Dallas Morning News

“Thorndike soars where so many men stumble: he has created a female character who is not simple, whose feelings and intelligence are as complex as the world with which she must make amends. This is an important first novel by an important novelist.” —The Albuquerque Journal

“A finely crafted novel about breaking with the past and beginning anew.” —The Winston-Salem Journal

“Thorndike makes his debut with a novel that brings both power and delicacy to the trauma of starting over. A novel about tragic loss and putting life back together.. .compelling.” —The Richmond Times-Dispatch

“Because John Thorndike displays a mature storytelling talent in this intriguing first novel, the reader believes wholeheartedly in his Middle Western setting, in Anna, and in the others who occupy her life. In cool tone and plain style, Thorndike has invented a world we can live in, accept as authentic, and relish to the last page.” –Doris Grumbach

“Anna Delaney’s Child is a brilliant first novel, written with power and delicacy. John Thorndike’s lyric prose and sensuous imagery put the reader into each vivid scene, evoking feelings with a master’s touch.” –Daniel Keyes

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