What if John Keats had not died in Rome at twenty-five, just as he was coming to realize his gifts? In this audaciously imagined alternate life story, the young poet is pulled back from the brink of death only to find his troubles far from over. He is short on money, far from home, his literary reputation anything but assured—but his life and imagination have been spared, and a new country awaits.
In an Italy at uneasy peace, full of foreign armies and spies, Keats soon finds his loyalties divided. He is drawn into Percy and Mary Shelley’s expatriate circle, resumes his old profession of surgery and falls in with student revolutionaries who are plotting a more radical cure for their nation. His fiancée in London expects his return, and everyone is expecting his next poem, but he has not returned from his deathbed quite the same person—or poet—that he was.
Written with erudition and compassion, Paul Kerschen’s debut novel is a spellbinding historical yarn and a heady engagement with the literature of the past, a thing of beauty in itself and a meditation on the writer’s duty in troubled times.
“An ambitious, thrilling work of the imagination... The Warm South is so much: a love story, a historical thriller, a great literary what-if, and a profound meditation on the act of creation itself.”
DANIEL MASON, New York Times bestselling author of The Winter Soldier and The Piano Tuner
“A lyrical and profound exploration of mortality, second chances, art, and ambition. Kerschen writes an alternate history for the beloved poet Keats, allowing him to rise from an early deathbed and experience the gory operating theaters of Pisa, the decadence of Italian Carnival, and a seductive and sometimes dangerous entanglement with Mary and Percy Shelley. Written with elegance and heart, The Warm South pulses with life.”
FRANCES DE PONTES PEEBLES, author of The Air You Breathe and The Seamstress
“Paul Kerschen’s miraculous first novel grants the poet John Keats an extended life in Italy as the surgeon he trained to be, and as the husband and father he never became. Superbly imagined, impeccably written, uncanny in its intimacy with Keats’s mind and feelings, this book also conjures the Italy in which Keats lived and died—and here lives on. Kerschen brings this mate- rial astonishingly alive and close. This is the best novel I’ve read all year.”
CARTER SCHOLZ, author of Gypsy and Radiance
“The Warm South offers an alternate biography, a second chance—a daring and deeply imagined portrait of genius made more human, more accessible, and more moving and vital than any history or scholarship can allow.”
VU TRAN, author of Dragonfish
“A bold strike. Kerschen applies SF’s classic ‘what if’ to literature itself. And like stern Mary Shelley’s monster, the dead poet stirs, and rises, and walks. But the path between the old world and his new friends is steep... Come.”
TERRY BISSON, author of Any Day Now and Bears Discover Fire
Paul Kerschen was born in 1978 and grew up in Arizona. He studied at the Iowa Writers' Workshop, where he received an Iowa Arts Fellowship and Glenn Schaeffer Fellowship, and earned a doctorate in English literature at UC Berkeley. He has written for Music & Literature, The Times Literary Supplement and others. The Drowned Library (Foxhead, 2011) is a collection of short fiction. The Warm South is his first novel. He lives in California.