The Singing Fire

SF cover
“From time to time, all too rarely, there comes a novel that so exceeds my expectations of mere excellence that I am tossed into the experience of magic. There is simply no way to explain, in terms of anything I know of conventional criticism, the power of the piece…It is a moving novel, a rich exploration of human conditions that are far deeper and broader than the specifics of time, place and culture. Nattel is an extraordinary novelist –an artist working diligently beyond the providence of her impressive historic and social scholarship. This book is lushly layered in its exploration of the most essential truths and ambiguities of life. And finally, as I believe all great art is, it is redeeming.” — Michael Pakenham, The Baltimore Sun

From The Singing Fire

It was in Whitechapel with the wind sweeping up the high road past the hospital and the convent and the bell foundry tolling bells. Carts and carriages jammed the wide road, steam came from cookshops and drizzle from the heavens. In the wind, street matrons held onto their hats, for every woman wore one, even if it was just a battered sailor hat and she used her nails to fight instead of hat-pins. It was time to retrieve the Sunday boots from the pawnshop, for wage packets were in hand, and shopkeepers stood in doorways shouting their wares above the sound of wheels and wind and the rattle of trains, their windows bright in the grey-green rain. The wind raged past new warehouses six stories high, holding all the goods of the empire for the West End, it swept past the Jerusalem Music Palace with its twenty-seven thousand crystals in the gas lit chandelier, past the gin palace of dazzling colour, past the club, the assembly room, the shooting gallery, past all the old houses, built after the Great Fire, now crumbling from stone and brick into the ash of the street. The wind saw the nuns and the Salvation Army Band, with its brass instruments and its bold uniforms, and everywhere the placards and posters in Yiddish: “Milk fresh from the cow!” “Cheapest and best funerals!” “New Melodrama starring the Great Eagle, Jacob Adler!”


“By turns earthy and lyrical, The Singing Fire authoritatively conjures up the fog-and smoke-filled breath of London, and at the same time it’s steeped in an atmosphere of mystery, reaching for soaring, transcendental truths…I must confess, I wept unabashedly more than once as I raced through this fine novel.”
– Elaine Kalman Naves, The Globe and Mail

“Nattel has so many strengths as a writer that it’s tempting just to list them: a historian’s eye for detail and language, a storyteller’s mastery of rhythm and suspense, a modern woman’s sympathic understanding for those who’ve preceded her.”
– Nancy Wigston, The Toronto Star

“Marvelous…vibrant… [R]ich in humor that’s never simply for laughs…and filled with passages of heartbreaking beauty that acknowledges the permanent scars left by tragedy but affirm the healing powers of love and self-knowledge. Beautifully written, strongly imagined, and deeply felt.

“Think Isaac Bashevis Singer, Charles Dickens, and Gabriel Garcia Marquez and you will have some idea of the scope of literary influences behind…The Singing Fire….Like Dickens, Nattel convincingly describes the tenements, streets, food, smells, clothes, working conditions and what passed for leisure in Londons’ East End…Nattels’ rich characterizations…are enough to make you weep.”
– Mary Soderstrom, Quill & Quire

Read a sample chapter