Dear Exile: The True Story Of Two Friends Separated (for A Year) By An Ocean by Hilary LiftinDear Exile: The True Story Of Two Friends Separated (for A Year) By An Ocean by Hilary Liftin

Dear Exile: The True Story Of Two Friends Separated (for A Year) By An Ocean

byHilary Liftin, Kate Montgomery

Paperback | April 27, 1999

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about

A funny and moving story told through the letters of two women nurturing a friendship as they are separated by distance, experience, and time.

Close friends and former college roommates, Hilary Liftin and Kate Montgomery promised to write when Kate's Peace Corps assignment took her to Africa.  Over the course of a single year, they exchanged an offbeat and moving series of letters from rural Kenya to New York City and back again.

Kate, an idealistic teacher, meets unexpected realities ranging from poisonous snakes and vengeful cows to more serious hazards: a lack of money for education; a student body in revolt.  Hilary, braving the singles scene in Manhattan, confronts her own realities, from unworthy suitors to job anxiety and first apartment woes.  Their correspondence tells--with humor, warmth, and vivid personal detail--the story of two young women navigating their twenties in very different ways, and of the very special friendships we are sometimes lucky enough to find.
Hilary Liftin grew up in Washington, DC. In 1991 she graduated from Yale University, where she was the editor of the Yale Literary Magazine. She has worked in book publishing as an associate editor of nonfiction and literary fiction and as an editor/producer at several websites. She currently develops online products for Muze, a provid...
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Title:Dear Exile: The True Story Of Two Friends Separated (for A Year) By An OceanFormat:PaperbackDimensions:208 pages, 7.98 × 5.14 × 0.54 inPublished:April 27, 1999Publisher:Knopf Doubleday Publishing GroupLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0375703675

ISBN - 13:9780375703676

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Reviews

Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wonderful I thoroughly enjoyed this memoir, and when I loan it to friends, they rave about it too.
Date published: 2017-02-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A forever favourite! I can't keep this book in my possession. When I finished my first copy, I rushed to give it to a friend... now every time I buy myself a new copy, I end up passing it on to another friend, old or new. I figure that's the sign of an excellent read - one you can't help but share and pass on to others. I love this book and can't wait to finally own it.
Date published: 2003-03-07
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Easy to read... Hilary and Kate's letters are full of detail and emotion, yet I felt as if I was missing parts of the story. An easy read; but did not capture me or take me over as I felt the story should.
Date published: 2001-04-16

Read from the Book

Kwale, May 31Dear Hilary,This business of having to write letters to keep up friendships definitely separates the wheat from the chaff. You are the wheat. (That would be the good part?)Our new neighbor, Mwanamisi, came over last night to show me how to make coconut rice, wali wa nazi. Kate, you say, but you already know how to make coconut rice! Yes, I say, but I don't know how to make friends. So David and I were rushing around trying to make reality match what we had probably said in Kiswahili. (I think we said we'd 'already' cleaned the rice and we 'were doing' laundry.) Mwanamisi arrived midway through the coconut-milk-making process and was chatting with us about how to cook it really well, soft and sweet. As far as I could tell, she was complimenting me on what I had done so far, except there was one little part that I didn't catch, and her tone was less spunky, so I figured I probably didn't put enough salt in or something. But, all in all, I was pretty excited at not being totally incompetent at cooking. Later, I checked on that verb to figure out what I'd done wrong. Here's what my dictionary said about it. (I mean, I just "haribu"-ed it--how bad could it be, right?) "kuharibu: v. injure, destroy, spoil, damage, ruin, demoralize, spoil work, break up an expedition, devastate a country, cause miscarriage, pervert, corrupt." That's what I did to the rice. Good thing we like potatoes, eh?Love, KateNew York City, December 19thDear Kate,I have obeyed my rules and leapt empty-handed into the void. Much as I try to explain to myself that I am in transition and that everything will turn out fine, I'm hardly the happy camper we remember. I'm living at my dad's now. My eyelid has had a twitch ever since I moved in here. It's a delicate fluttering twitch that others don't seem to see, but to me it feels like there's a bird in my head beating itself against the window of my eye. So right now I hardly recognize myself. I wake up in a strange apartment. I hide away my bed and all signs of me.I commute out of the city--away from all my friends and the places I know--to work at a sterile office at an ill-defined new job in a big, generic office building on a highway in Westchester. I'm just waiting: waiting to accumulate a foundation of knowledge that will get me the right job; waiting to get my own apartment so I can make noise and be a person; waiting to hail a cab and smile at the person getting out and see that stranger again and again.Most of all right now, I can't wait to live alone. The finances of buying an apartment are impossible, but I'm willing to make adjustments. No long distance service, for example, no food on weekdays, drugstore makeup, factory-second panty hose, found art. I can't wait to acquire "homeowner's insurance." I want to have my stereo going when I fall asleep. I want all the messages to be for me. I want to bring home strangers and store their body parts in my freezer. I want to polyurethane floors and leave the toilet seat up (Oh wait, I'm a girl.) and throw away all the plastic grocery bags, which wouldn't even accumulate anyway since I don't shop. I want the shower to be a hundred percent available. I want to have parties and not clean up.Oh, and how much do I miss you? Let me count the ways: I miss you like the plague; I miss you because you understand everything I say and because for all I know when I say I see blue everyone else might see green but I'm pretty sure you see blue; I miss you because when you get back you're going to be really different and dirty; I miss you because you are not coming to my Christmas party; I miss you because you are speaking Kiswahiliand I can't and I'm afraid you'll never come home; I miss you as often as I check my voice mail (which is like every minute); I miss you because I don't trust anyone else's sanity (except maybe my brother's); I miss you more than I miss all my stored belongings and with a force that is just a tiny bit less than my desire to find a lifetime companion; I miss you because the park is covered in snow and I haven't been there yet; I miss you because I think you love me unconditionally and I definitely do you. This turned into a love letter, is that so wrong?Goodbye my dirty friend, goodbye,Hilary

Bookclub Guide

US1. In Dear Exile, Kate's and Hilary's stories unfold in their letters toone another. How does the immediacy of letters, in contrast to a straightnarrative, affect your experience as a reader? Did you empathize with one womanmore than the other? Did your feelings change during the course of the book?2. Hilary says she "was afraid that Kate would disappear into married life, andshe actually did disappear, almost right away . . . when the newlyweds joined thePeace Corps and went to Kenya" [p. 5]. Is Hilary only concerned about thephysical separation? Are her fears about losing Kate realized to any extent, ordo the friends maintain the closeness they enjoyed before Kate married? Wouldtheir relationship have been different if Hilary had not been so fond of Dave?3. During her first weeks in Kenya, Kate writes, "I'm beginning to feelgenerally disoriented" [p. 16]. Are Kate's feelings an inevitable reaction tobeing in a foreign environment? How do the perceptions of the local people affecther perception of herself? In response, Hilary writes about her new job, saying,"So right now I hardly recognize myself" [p. 18]. Is Hilary's feeling ofdisorientation as understandable as Kate's?4. Hilary feels like a guest in her father's house, admitting, "I would neverfeel the need to be so cautious and polite and adult if I were staying with mymother" [p. 20]. Kate is taken under the wings of older women in the villages sheand Dave live in during their stay in Kenya. Discuss the role that bonds betweenwomen play in Dear Exile, comparing and contrasting their importance in Kenyanculture and American culture. In what ways are the lives of women in Kenyasimilar to the lives of women in America? 5. Except for Dave's short notes at the end of Kate's letters, the men in DearExile are seen only through the eyes of two women. What are your impressions ofthe men Hilary discusses in her letters: her close friend, Josh Stack; herbrother, Steven; Jason, her old boyfriend; and William Strong, the doctor shefalls in love with? How do Hilary's romantic notions influence her reactions tomen?6. When she arrives in Ramisi, Kate writes, "For the time being, Kenya hastotally kicked both of our butts" [p. 40]. What adjustments--both practical andpsychological--help her feel more at home? What does she mean when she says "myfeeling of independence is really not from deprivation but actually fromprivilege and wealth. I can feel lighter, relieved of the load of a life ofluxury" [p. 45]? 7. In several letters, Hilary makes wry observations about the differencesbetween her life as a single woman [p. 52] and the lives of couples [p. 64]. Inyour opinion, do her assessments reflect only her personal experiences or arethey valid in a more universal sense? To what extent do they stem from heradmiration and even envy for Kate's and her brother's marriages?8. Kate is very unsettled by the atmosphere in Kenyan schools--from the rigidstyle of teaching to the acceptance of harsh physical punishment. Are Kate'sexpectations about what she can accomplish as a Peace Corps teacher unrealistic?Is her idealism a privilege that only can be enjoyed by well-educated,"comfortable" people? Do you think her unwillingness to accept local standards ofbehavior is right or wrong? How do you feel about her statement that "it's allabout what a person is raised to believe, it could all be called culture, but Iwasn't raised to believe this, and I can't be open-minded about it" [p. 73]? 9. When the Peace Corps reports that the drinking water in Ramisi is unfit forhuman consumption, only Kate and Dave take the news seriously. Kate says, "It'stricky to be telling people that their ways aren't good enough. I don't know ifthey don't want to hear it from us whites, if they don't want to contest 'God'swill,' or if they just don't care" [p. 69]. Do Kate and Dave--and Peace Corpsvolunteers in general--have an obligation to teach basic rules of sanitationwhich would lessen the incidence of disease and death despite the resistance ofthe local people? 10. Hilary worries that she is caving in to the standards of American office andbeauty cultures. Is renouncing the promises she made in college--"never to wearpanty hose or painful shoes, never to have manicures . . . or pay more thantwenty dollars for a haircut or carry a purse" [p. 78]--a necessary part ofbecoming a "grown-up"? Do these outward signs of change mean that she is beinguntrue to herself?11. What was your reaction to Hilary's sexual adventures in cyberspace? Doyou think she should have continued the virtual affair once she discovered thatshe knew her chat-room lover? Do you think they should have pursued theirrelationship in real life? 12. At Kwale High, the second village school Kate and Dave are sent to,conditions are just as bad as the conditions in Ramisi schools. Have Kate'sattitudes about the canings and verbal assaults--integral parts of Africaneducation--changed in any way during her nine months in Kenya? Do you think thather fellow teachers' image of "American schools full of weapons, violence, anddisrespect for authority" [p. 119] justifies their dismissal of Kate's teachingstyle? How would you respond to their claims that treating children severely inschool is a natural, necessary extension of the traditions set at home?13. Kate and Dave meet a volunteer who has thoroughly assimilated to the Kenyanway of life [p. 120]. Is his approach to living in a foreign country moreappropriate than Kate's and Dave's? Is his willingness to embrace the negativeaspects of the culture morally reprehensible?14. Kate compares the exorcism in Kwale to the Salem witch trials, yet the witchdoctor's rituals do cure the "curse" on the young girls. How do you explain thesuccess of these ancient rites? How would similar problems with adolescent girlsbe treated in this country? 15. What do Hilary's weird neighbors--the woman upstairs who moves furniture inthe middle of the night and the man downstairs who screams frighteningthreats--as well as some of her less successful dates, represent in the contextof the book? What insights do Hilary's reactions to them reveal about her abilityto cope with the real world? Do you sympathize with Hilary's fears anduncertainties, or do they seem trivial in comparison to Kate's? Why yes or no?16. Kate remains on the sidelines as the tensions at school mount and eventuallyescalate into violence. Should she have taken a more active role--either indealing with the "powers that be" or with the students themselves? As part of thecommunity, was it really possible for her to be an "innocent bystander"? 17. Kate and Dave decide to leave Kenya because they don't have the spirit andenergy to move to another village. Do you think they could have adapted bydrawing lessons from their experiences and developing new attitudes? Whatexperiences have you had with culture clashes? Discuss how--and if--it ispossible to adjust to another culture without betraying personal values.18. Dear Exile ends with a postscript and an epilogue by the letterwriters. How do these finishing touches enhance the impressions you formed ofeach woman through their letters? Which woman changed more during their yearapart? 19. Do you think the intimacy Kate and Hilary developed as correspondents will besustained now that they live in the same city? Does writing letters offeropportunities for introspection and honesty that can't be matched in telephoneconversations and face-to-face encounters?

From Our Editors

Between the African jungle and concrete jungle, Hilary Liftin and Kate Montgomery exchanged personal letters about their pleasures, fears and anxieties. Hilary's correspondence reveals a single woman who bemoans New York City's host of annoyances and inconveniences. Meanwhile, Kate is on assignment with the Peace Corp and finds herself thrust into dangerous and often surrealistic situations no one could have prepared her for. Dear Exile does what good collections of correspondence do. The letters here inform, disturb and entertain.