Dear Exile: The True Story of Two Friends Separated (for a Year) by an Ocean by Hilary Liftin, Kate Montgomery
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 provider of digital information about music, videos and books, in New York City.
Kate Montgomery was raised in Wakefield, Rhode Island. She studied at Yale and Columbia Universiities, and has spent time teaching in both Czechoslovakia and Kenya. Kate has previously co-authored a non-fiction book A Teacher's Guide to Standardized Reading Tests. She is currently on leave from her job as a high school English teacher in Harlem to raise, with her husband David Hackenburg, their new son, Kobi.
From the Trade Paperback edition.
Los Angeles, California
Date of Birth:
August 12, 1969
Place of Birth:
New York, New York
B.A., Yale University, 1991
Read an Excerpt
Kwale, May 31
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?
New York City, December 19th
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 Kiswahili and 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?
I adored Dear Exile, and, in the way of all wonderful books, now miss it. These letters are witty, real, charming, smart, touching, and amazingly unselfconscious. Truly, Dear Exile was for me love at first word.
(Elinor Lipman, author of Isabel's Bed)
I love Dear Exile, and I love the women in it. I opened it one afternoon, then just couldn't put it down. Here is a girlfriend relationship that I actually recognize. Their humor, love, and world view is to me, simply, perfection.
(Whitney Otto, How to Make an American Quilt)
Reading Group Guide
It is often said that the art of letter writing has disappeared in our high-tech age. But two women, roommates and best friends in college, devoted themselves to this "lost art" when one of them, Kate Montgomery, became a Peace Corps volunteer in rural Kenya, while Hilary Liftin sought her own post-college destiny in New York City. Their letters, brought together in Dear Exile, form a yearlong "conversation" that is candid and comforting, much like a personal encounter. The questions, discussion topics, and suggested reading list that follow invite you to join their conversation in your reading group, and to add your reflections on and opinions of some of the themes in the book.
Dear Exile: The True Story of Two Friends Separated (for a Year) by an Ocean 4.7 out of 5based on
More than 1 year ago
I could not put this book down!! It was wonderful. It really inspires one to jump back into writing real letters. Letters filled with hope, sadness and joy as these women did. I felt like I was living their respective lives!! READ THIS!
More than 1 year ago
I thought that this book was good. It wats a good book for me to read because I like to reading peoples notes and letters to each other, cause I like to find out what is going on in there life. I also like to learn how diffrent there life is compared to mine and how they are similer. I would recomend this book to people that like to read letters a
More than 1 year ago
I liked this wonderfully presented book, especilally the fact that the story is told in the form of letters. It reminded me of Dostoyevsky¿s POOR FOLD, Janvier Tisi¿s THE USURPER and Mariama Ba¿s SO LONG A LETTER. It is easy for a reader to relate to the story. Above all, it showed the strength of genuine friendship. Afterall, is it not written somewhere that ¿Heavens send us friendship so that we can find relief from the mysteries that oppress us.¿?
More than 1 year ago
This book was not as great as I thought it was going to be. I wished it could have been longer or that Kate could have written more about her experiences. But it did show a wonderful contrast between the two lives of these friends!
More than 1 year ago
Not only did this book illustrate just how special frienships are between women, but it was a 'fun' read! It was fun to read the correspondence between these two warm, funny, and interesting women. I am going to tell all my friends about this book! :) Enjoy!
More than 1 year ago
I can't say enough about this gem of a book. I trusted the reviews on this one and boy am I glad I did. I actually have a waiting list of co-workers who want to read it because I raved about it so much. So far their reviews match mine. (A great gift for your best girlfriend) Makes you want to get back to writing letters instead of all this email. I was inspired to write an old neighbor of mine. Now we are in touch agian.
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