Exiles in the Garden

Exiles in the Garden

by Ward Just


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“Ward Just is not merely America’s best political novelist. He is America’s greatest living novelist.”—Susan Zakin,  Lithub   

"One of the most astute writers of American fiction" (New York Times Book Review) delivers the resonant story of Alec Malone, a senator’s son who rejects the family business of politics for a career as a newspaper photographer. Alec and his Swiss wife, Lucia, settle in Georgetown next door to a couple whose émigré gatherings in their garden remind Lucia of all the things Americans are not. She leaves Alec as his career founders on his refusal of an assignment to cover the Vietnam War — a slyly subversive fictional choice from Ward Just, who was himself a renowned war correspondent.
At the center of the novel is Alec’s unforeseen reckoning with Lucia’s long-absent father, Andre Duran, a Czech living out the end of his life in a hostel called Goya House. Duran’s career as an adventurer and antifascist commando is everything Alec’s is not. The encounter forces Alec to confront just how different a life where things — "terrible things, terrible things" — happen is from a life where nothing much happens at all.
Once again, "Ward Just writes the kind of books they say no one writes anymore: smart, well-crafted narratives — wise to the ways of the world — that use fiction to show us how we live" (Joseph Kanon, Los Angeles Times).

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780547336015
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date: 07/01/2010
Pages: 279
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

WARD JUST's novels include Exiles in the Garden, Forgetfulness, the National Book Award finalist Echo House, A Dangerous Friend, winner of the Cooper Prize for fiction from the Society of American Historians, and An Unfinished Season, winner of the Chicago Tribune Heartland Award and a finalist for the 2005 Pulitzer Prize.

Read an Excerpt

Especially when he was alone Alec Malone had the habit of slipping into reverie, a semiconscious state not to be confused with dreams. Dreams were commonplace while his reveries presented a kind of abstract grandeur, expressionist canvases in close focus, untitled. That was how he thought of them, and not only because of the score in the background, German music, voices, trumpets, metronomic bass drums, and now and again the suggestion of a tango or a march. The reveries had been with him since childhood and he treated them like old friends paying a visit. The friends aged as he did, becoming increasingly abstract now that he had begun to lose sight in his right eye, a hole in the macula that began as a pinprick but was now the size of an o. That eye saw only the periphery of things with any clarity. The condition was annoying, not disabling, since sight was a function not of one eye but of two and Alec’s left eye was sound. However, driving at night was an adventure. He did not permit himself to drive in fog because objects had a way of vanishing altogether. And there was some amusement — when he closed his left eye and looked at a human face with his right, that face appeared as an expressionist’s death’s-head, an image very like Munch’s The Scream.
Alec had the usual habits of one who lived alone: a fixed diet, a weekly visit to the bookstore, a scrupulously balanced checkbook, and a devotion to major league baseball and the PGA Tour. He worked when he felt like it. He described himself to himself as leading a chamber-music sort of life except for the Wagnerian reveries. They were neutral fantasies, meaning they had nothing to do with the life he wished he had led — Alec was quite content with the one he had — or might lead in the future. He did not count himself a prophet. He returned often to his childhood but rarely lingered there. His childhood was so long ago that the events he remembered most vividly seemed to him to have happened to someone else and were incomplete in any case, washedout colors side by side with ink-black holes, a half-remembered country governed by a grim-faced man with a long nose, a figure from antiquity, perhaps a bildnis from Dürer’s sketchbook. Alec considered the long-nosed man a family heirloom, grandmother’s silver or the pendulum clock on the mantel, the one whose ticks and tocks sounded like pistol reports. He lost his footing in those early years in which the domestic life of his own family was usurped by the civic life of the nation. That was the life that counted. The Malone dinner table, his father presiding, was a combination quiz show and news conference.
Quick now, Alec. How many congressional districts in Iowa? Which nations were signatories to the Locarno Pact? Who wrote “Fear of serious injury cannot alone justify suppression of free speech and assembly. Men feared witches and burned women. It is the function of speech to free men from the bondage of irrational fears”?
What was Glass-Steagall? Who was Colonel House?
Where is Yalta?
Question: What’s the difference between ignorance and indifference?
Answer: I don’t know and I don’t care.
Hush, Alec. Don’t disturb your father when he’s talking to Mr. Roosevelt. Don’t you know there’s a war on?
À la recherche du temps Roosevelt. The president inhabited the house in Chevy Chase like a member of the family or a living god, present everywhere and visible nowhere. Alec’s father called him the Boss. The Boss wants this, the Boss wants that. The Boss sounded a little tired today but he’s leaving for Warm Springs tomorrow. In his reveries Alec conjured the president in his White House office, talking into the telephone in his marbled Hudson River voice, commanding an entire nation — its armies, its factories and farms, all its citizens great and small. Yet Alec had no sense of him as a man — not then, not later — and when he tentatively asked his father, the reply was bromidic. He was great. He was the greatest man his father had ever met, and he had met many, many of the highest men in the land, shaken their hands, spoken tête-à-tête, worked with them, worked against them. The Boss was different. The Boss lived on a different level, deriving his strength and his courage from — and here his father faltered, uncomfortable always in the realm of the mystical. Finally he said, His legs are useless, you know. He can hardly walk. But he likes a martini at the end of the day just like the rest of us, and there the comparison ends. Alec, I’d say he’s Shakespearean. That’s the best I can do.
Alec nodded, wondering all the while which of Shakespeare’s kings his father had in mind — Macbeth, Richard III, Coriolanus? Henry V, no doubt, though that comparison did not seem apt. Shakespeare’s kings suffered the consequences of their will to power. The will to power was the evil in them, not that they did not have ample assistance from others — wives, false friends, rivals, the Fates. When the president died Alec’s father was inconsolable. Washington was suddenly a darker, lesser place. Then he was summoned by Harry Truman — they had never gotten along — who extended his hand and asked for help, not an easy thing for him to do. Mr. Truman was a prideful man, often vindictive. Of course Senator Malone agreed to do whatever Mr. Truman wanted done. There was a war on. Each man did his part willingly. But it wasn’t the same.
For years Franklin D. Roosevelt figured in Alec’s reveries but eventually faded as Alec drifted upward, forward to his young manhood and early middle age and beyond, what he considered his meridian years — when he was out of his father’s house, out of his orbit, out from under, married to Lucia Duran and working in what his father dismissively called “snapshots” but which everyone else called photography. His father wanted his boy to follow him into politics, commencing a dynasty; state attorney general, his father thought, then governor, and after that anything was possible. The Boss had been a governor.
No, Alec told his father.
But — why ever not?
I don’t believe in dynasties, Alec said, which was the truth but not the salient truth. The salient truth was that the civic life of the nation held no attraction. He preferred Shakespeare’s life to the life of any one of his kings or pretenders, tormented men always grasping for that thing just out of reach. Deluded men. Men adrift on a sea of troubles, some of their own making, some not. In any case, the Fates were in charge, part of the human equation along with ambition and restlessness. Alec was satisfied with his photography and his reveries, including the mundane, the look of ordinary things and the time of day, what the weather was like outside and who was present at the occasion, a cat slumbering in a splash of bright sunlight, red and yellow roses proliferating. Life’s excitement lay just outside the frame of reference, grandeur felt but not seen yet grandeur all the same. Alec’s reveries were his way of bringing life down to earth, so to speak.

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

"Set mostly in Washington, it provides shrewd observations about that stiflingly self-centered capital and its public ways and private folkways....[Just] writes perceptively about the contrast between European and American values. Best of all is the epigrammatic quality his writing achieves" - Los Angeles Times

"Exiles in the Garden is [Just's] 16th novel and is, for my money, one of his three best, the others being "A Family Trust" (1978) and "An Unfinished Season" (2004)....he has a loyal following even in this difficult time for the book industry." - Washington Post

"cultured, beautifully controlled fiction....elegant" - Cleveland Plain Dealer

"The novel is fascinatingly readable and at the same time deeper than we expect....[Just] leaves us pondering that ageless question of where the personal becomes the political or if it is possible to maintain a distinction at all." - Miami Herald

"One cannot read the fiction of Ward Just without concluding that we are all expatriates, or, to crib from the title of his latest novel, that we are exiles in the garden of our lives." - Chicago Tribune

"Master novelist Just continues his commanding inquiry into the complexities of inheritance, politics, bloodshed, art, fame, and fate, taking measure of the everlasting wounds of war and moral compromise. A virtuoso writer of graceful wit and offhanded gravitas, Just tells this elegant yet harrowing tale of the entanglement of the personal and the geopolitical in sentences infused with the tensile strength of suspension bridges spanning earthly fire and the dark tides of the psyche."- Booklist

"Just writes with confidence and authority as he works through larger themes of politics, history, war and historical judgment. This intellectually rigorous narrative is absorbing, timely and very Washington." - Publishers Weekly, starred review

"Ward Just's 16th novel offers further proof that, as much as any author working today, he writes for grownups. Exiles in the Garden is another of his intricate, intellectually challenging character studies that trades flashy action for a psychologically astute investigation into the deepest recesses of public and private morality....Ward Just began his career as a journalist and that training is evident in his keen eye for detail and his ability to penetrate to the essence of his subjects' lives. In characteristic meditative style, he reveals how the choices of his flawed, complex characters resonate down through the decades. His latest novel is one more brick in an edifice of work that someday should be read by historians looking for insight into the world of modern American politics and contemporary statecraft." - Shelf Awareness

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Exiles in the Garden 2.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 16 reviews.
llamamia More than 1 year ago
Exiles in the Garden was the first book I have read by Ward Just but will not be the last! I am slowly making my way through his previous novels & enjoying each & every one. I normally would not choose books about politics but find Just's characters so real that I am drawn into their lives, truly caring about how they feel. For me, the political & historical content is almost secondary, although none the less important. The conflict that Alec experiences in this novel is typical of many of Just's characters, I now realize, but rather than criticizing the author for this repetition, as one of the reviewers has done, I find this commonality reassuring in that we all try to come to grips with our past & present circumstances. I think the lack of quotation marks is refreshing &, in my opinion, resemble a stream of consciousness delivery. Just's wonderful descriptive writing make the settings come alive & having lived abroad, I can relate to the differences in countries & cultures while the similarities in human feelings exist. I also like the fact that the author does not tie all the knots or bring the endings to a satisfactory climax, but shows respect for the reader's intelligence, allowing them to come to their own conclusions...or not. Most refreshing. Ward Just is my new favorite author:)
GarySeverance on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Exiles in the Garden is a very good political/historical novel set in Washington, D.C. The interesting characters are fully developed and the dialogue is appropriate and sophisticated. The main characters are all exiles for different reasons who share common threads. Each actor is removed from something important by the contexts of history, and each player attempts to understand and communicate a personal story. For some characters, the context of their stories is the attack on their country (particularly Czechoslovakia) that in their minds forced them to act; their decisions were involuntary. For members of a younger generation, it was their parents who were affected by political change, and memories of changes in ways of life are second-hand, sketchy, and idealized. The need for action is ambiguous and voluntary for this group. Andre and Alec represent the two generations and provide a point/counterpoint of personal wartime decisions. Andre's story is one of heroism in Czechoslovakia while the younger Alec's story appears to be one of lack of professionalism related to Vietnam. The little stories these two characters tell each other show a global perspective even though they have relatively narrow views of the whole historical context. It does not really matter what the two characters say but rather the peace of mind brought on by the communications. Readers will enjoy Ward Just's novel. It focuses mainly on life reviews of the aging characters as they try to come to some absolute truth about their cultures. Andre and Alec demonstrate that this is not possible and that people benefit most from life reviews that are ultimately enigmas not absolutes. Readers learn the key to ending life with Erikson's notion of "ego integrity" rather than "despair" is to take pleasure and comfort in personal/historical enigmas. A good novel to read after Exiles in the Garden is Prague by Arthur Phillips (see my LT review).
Doondeck on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Well written study of people marked or haunted by their past. I did think the ending was appropriate but the details were confusing.
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Polly Conlon More than 1 year ago
this is a wonderful read. washington atmosphere, intrigue, interesting male characters...
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