EXILES by Cary Groner
“Fatherhood held at its heart a sweet, paradoxical masochism, the self-abnegation of one willing to die for another. Why else would he have come to this place?”
Review by Betsey Van Horn В (JUN 19, 2011)
The core of this exotic fusion of mainstream and literary fiction is defined by the eponymous title– displacement, exclusion, alienation, and even expulsion. The exquisite, poetic first chapter thrusts the reader immediately into a remote setting in Kathmandu 2006, where American cardiologist, Peter Scanlon and his seventeen-year-old daughter, Alex, face a guerilla death squad in the Himalayas. The reader is instantly spellbound with the story, where survival and danger coalesce in a taut, tense thriller that examines contrasts in exile: spirituality within human suffering, inner peace outside of war, and prosperity beyond pestilence.
Backtrack to 2005, and the events that shaped the current peril of the Scanlons. Peter, forced to expel his troubled daughter from proximity to her meth addict mother, removes her from the U.S. to start a new life. At his persuasion, Alex pitches a dart at an atlas to select a new home, which lands on Kathmandu, a deep valley surrounded by colossal mountains, and a politically sensitive and turbulent place marred by outlaws, massacres and instability. Peter gets a job at a volunteer health clinic, where diseases he has never seen and cries he has never heard permeate the city and pierce his cynical American heart.
Warring Maoists pervade the mountainside and threaten the life of citizens, and the lawless and nihilistic underworld controls the corrupt police and politicians. Moreover, the clinic’s acquisition of life-saving drugs depends a lot on the negotiation with these syndicate bosses of the city, specifically a savage man who runs a huge sex trafficking ring of young females, many who are sick with STD’s. Peter’s desire to save these girls threatens his MD’s license and his personal safety, and his frustration to cure the sick is challenged by the powerful epidemics that are resistant to antibiotics.
Peter and Alex live in relative comfort compared to the natives, but without heat and in extreme temperatures. Peter’s boss at the clinic has arranged for a housekeeper/cook, Sangita, a Tibetan woman whose daughter, Devi, is Alex’s age. Alex and Devi bond instantly, and Santiga’s maternal instincts are a welcome energy to the household. Mina, the nurse at the clinic who functions more like an agitating partner, vexes Peter, as well as beguiles him.
Ailments, treachery, and poverty permeate the city like the thick, grey fog and charcoal sky that hovers over the inhabitants. A feeling of dread snakes through the narrative, yet a soulful backbone of human stout-heartedness and endurance surprises the reader at each descent of gravity. Groner’s exuberant prose imbues the story with keen paradoxes and nimble dialogue that flow with sharp, pointed wit. The pace is quick, thrilling and cinematic; you will probably finish this novel in a few sturdy sittings.
The disadvantage of this hybrid genre of fiction is the tendency to inject the main characters with a staggering puissance. They wear their courage a little too easily, including the teenagers. There are also several convenient and predictable plot turns that are too facile, giving the narrative a rushed simplicity at times. Also, although Peter is out of his element, he steadily challenges pernicious criminals with a force and conniving that periodically flouts credibility.
Mina, who enters as an intriguing individual, flattens out as her contentious nature is mitigated. Sangita turns out to be a straw character, as are several other players in this drama. Buddhist practices lend a warm and exalted glow to the story, but almost tips into precious territory at intervals.
However, this is a potent story that, despite some inorganic elements, never fails to fill the reader with wonder. The magic arises from the immaculate prose and imagery, as well as luminous, cosmic turns of phrase, and the ties that bind humanity. This is a novel ripe with quotable passages, with a landscape of flourishing detail. As a story of exile, it lures and invites the reader within its foreign enclosures to a map that contours the human heart.
|AMAZON READER RATING:||from 6 readers|
|PUBLISHER:||Spiegel & Grau (June 7, 2011)|
|REVIEWER:||Betsey Van Horn|
|AVAILABLE AS A KINDLE BOOK?||YES! Start Reading Now!|
|AUTHOR WEBSITE:||Cary Groner|
|MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION:||Read our review of:
State of Wonder by Ann Patchett
- Exiles (June 2011)