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Dear Exile : The True Story of Two Friends Separated (for a Year) by an Ocean Paperback – April 27, 1999

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

One woman has the privilege of a happy, secure marriage while confronting the poverty of a Third World country. The other enjoys the luxuries of a big American city while struggling to find romantic happiness. In this humorous, touching, real-as-daylight collection of letters former college roommates Liftin and Montgomery exchanged during their year apart, we see the support and humor two 20-something women can offer each other as they move down disparate paths. In the small Kenyan town where she and her husband are spending 12 months as Peace Corps volunteers, Montgomery realizes that, although she can gamely adjust to eating rancid goat stew, living with fist-sized spiders and having her house exorcised of genies, the tasks of caning students until they bleed and teaching them to "sit down and shut up" while their headmaster uses their textbook money to buy himself a new pickup truck are beyond her limits of cultural assimilation. Meanwhile, back in New York City, Liftin tackles her own obstacles, including finding an apartment in Manhattan, surviving the embarrassing loss of her "cybervirginity," enduring the threats of a paranoid neighbor and recovering from the pain of unreciprocated love. Though Liftin's problems can pale in comparison to Montgomery's, the duo's correspondence makes it clear that their relationship has thrived precisely because of their unconditional recognition of the immediacy and importance of each other's travails. Many women readers will be reminded of their own intense college and postcollege friendships, and may be inspired to try to reconnect with lost friends. This is a smoothly sewn book that appeals on several levels: as engaging travel literature, as a witty exploration of modern women's lives and as a testament to the power and blessing of friendship. Agent, Cindy Klein Roche. Author tour. (May) FYI: There will be a Web site devoted to Dear Exile, at
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

YA-College roommates Kate Montgomery and Hilary Liftin went in different directions after they graduated. Kate married and went to Kenya with her husband to teach with the Peace Corps, while Hilary attempted to conquer Manhattan. This book consists of their letters during the year they were separated. Kate's letters were full of life in Africa-the heat and disease, the lack of school supplies where she taught, the absence of personal and public amenities, and the political machinations of local authorities. Hilary wrote about the snow, the difficulties of finding a place to live, her attempt at a career that was never fully described, her family's complicated relationships, and her social life (or lack thereof). These two young women maintained their friendship and found comfort and sustenance in the letters they exchanged. For young adults, the appeal of this book lies in the contrasts of life in Kenya versus life in the Big Apple, in the importance of an enduring friendship, and in seeing the challenges that young people are apt to face as they make their way in the world.
Pamela B. Rearden, Centreville Regional Library, Fairfax County, VA
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Series: Vintage Departures
  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; 1 edition (April 27, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375703675
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375703676
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.5 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (57 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #874,745 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on January 13, 2000
Format: Paperback
Books about female friendships are few and far between. I know I will face some argument on this one, but so many of the books that pretend to be about female friendships are *really* about men. Who one of the loves, who one of them wants to love, making the men the centerpiece of the story.
But this book does not do that.
This book is about women (though certainly Kate's husband figures in the tale) and about the way that the women interact with each other. The letters demonstrate the real nature of friendship between women, which is not, as many in Hollywood would like to think, populated with half-naked pillow fights and hair-pulling over some man. These women do what women in real life *do* with each other: scold, tease, smother with concern, and truly share concerns. The fact that Hillary is in New York and Kate is in Africa is almost incidental next to this loving depiction of friendship. (Although the contrast certainly helps to illuminate the personalities, and it is a pretty compelling description of the situation in Africa and the role that the Peace Corp can play in that environment. I would esp. recommend this to anyone who is planning on making a life of activism or service, in the Peace Corps or elsewhere.)
It could be uninteresting to read about such a realistic friendship, however it isn't. It is a warm and funny book, obviously well crafted by the talents of both women and good editors. It is sweet, really, but not cloying, and it has an emotional impact on the reader -- makes you want to call your long lost pal and hug her over coffee.
In fact, after I am done writing this, I am going to the post office to send my copy to my best friend, who's living in Japan. It's just that kind of book.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Krista on December 14, 2000
Format: Paperback
In an age of cell phones and e-mail and instant access, a pair of people who write long, detailed letters and mail them (with stamps!) seems unusual. And what letters! These are no slapdash, catty-chatty constructions, but rather articulate, vivid, thoughtful epistles between two people living very different lives in the 1990s.
The letters are real; they are the products of former Yale roommates Kate Montgomery and Hilary Liftin. Kate, recently married, moves to Kenya with her husband to teach English for the Peace Corps. Her narrative of life in Africa begins with stunned delight (giraffes walk by!). Increasingly, though, her letters begin to detail the awful conditions and debasement of the people there. We learn of rampant disease (Kate seems to catch every one of them), polluted water, and unsanitary schools where students are beaten mercilessly.
Hilary, from the other side of the ocean, relates her experience as a single woman looking for love, satisfying work, and a decent apartment in New York City. Her stories are funny, poignant, sometimes heartbreaking, and just as interesting as Kate's.
The best story of all, though, is that of the friendship that sustains and enriches these two passionate women across the miles.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 10, 2000
Format: Paperback
Two friends from two very different worlds correspond. The juxtaposition is striking. One letter writes of computers and getting a new apartment and dating and romance from the slick comsmopolitan world of New York City. In the next letter, you are transported to a world of poor sanitation, a place where people have very different ideas about pace of life and what's important, a place where you cannot speak against abuse and injustice due to red tape. In one letter it is the heat of an African summer, in the next, a snowy day in New York. I noticed many other reviewers are judging the quality of one against the other. I didn't judge - I enjoyed the book for it's contrast of two different worlds. I enjoyed the book as one who often feels lost and aimless in a post-graduate world. I identified with the political aspects of civil service as well as the practical aspects of single life in the US. You may find yourself drawn to Hilary's sophisticated social upwardly-mobile scene, and/or to Kate (and husband Dave's) world of reserved stranger in a strange land, her quiet perseverence trying against great odds to make the world a better place in the Peace Corps.
A couple of asides - sometimes the language seems to get a little too "precious", which is to be forgiven. Also, it feels like so much was left out, like the book could have been twice as thick as it was somehow. One last note, should this book ever become a movie (it has a rather cinematic quality to it) I think husband Dave will steal the show, even as he played a minor role in the book, he always delivers a great performance!
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on November 10, 1999
Format: Paperback
This books sheds light on the different realities of two cultures and reveals the easy manner with which two friends communicate. The letters were well edited and so allowed this reader to enter into their relationship. Any "you had to be there stories" were wisely taken out. Kate Montgomery's accounts of teaching and living in Kenya were disturbing and honest. I hope that her stories of the lack of bathing, poisonous water and insect infestations would make any potential volunteer think twice about what he or she is about to enter into. This is a quick, entertaining and enlightening read.
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