CALAMITIES OF EXILE by Lawrence Weschler


Three Nonfiction Novellas
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Beautiful but harrowing chronicles of three exiles that probe the moral and personal risks of their encounters with totalitarianism. Here are three tales about expatriates who attempt, with often disastrous results to themselves and their families, to oppose the totalitarian regimes of their homelands. A staff writer for the New Yorker, Weschler (Mr. Wilson’s Cabinet of Wonder, 1995, etc.) brings characteristic style and intelligence to bear on his portrayal of the manner in which totalitarianism corrupts everyone, including its most steadfast opponents. Weschler has chosen “very edgy guys” whose quirkiness bolsters them in their defiance. Kanan Makiya adopted the pseudonym Samir al-Khalil for his books attacking Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. Aside from his record of Iraqi state terror, Makiya also penned a critique of those artists who collaborated with Saddam’s regime. Prominent among them was his own father, Mohammed Makiya, Iraq’s foremost architect, whom he loves and, in many ways, respects. While family ties lie most obviously at the center of Makiya’s conflicted feelings, Weschler demonstrates that opposition to a regime often results in fragmented families. Jan Kavan, a former student activist, spent two decades smuggling opposition materials in and out of Czechoslovakia, only to find himself, incredibly, accused of collaboration when he came home following the collapse of the Communist regime. Weschler describes the Kafkaesque situation, illuminating the difficulties raised by society’s need to both forgive and to find someone to punish for its own failures. The final and most stunning of these narratives focuses on Afrikaaner poet and painter Breyten Breytenbach. We follow his journey to exile, his foolhardy return to South Africa on a mission that gets him jailed, and his collapse while imprisoned. Breytenbach’s poetry and comments are beautiful and penetrating, illuminating many of the painful issues activists face in exile. Piercing and timely essays that probe the profound ways in which modern totalitarianism “turned out to be evil in a confoundingly complicated way.” (3 b&w photos, not seen)

Pub Date: May 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-226-89393-6
Page count: 192pp
Publisher: Univ. of Chicago
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15th, 1998


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