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Exiles: A Novel Hardcover


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 227 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 1st edition (May 13, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374150974
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374150976
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 6 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #429,175 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844–1889) wrote some of the most beautiful and innovative poetry in English of the late 19th century. In Hansen's vivid fiction, Hopkins is a promising Oxford graduate who writes verse throughout college, converts to Roman Catholicism in his early 20s and takes church orders. Those acts ostracize him from his family and silence his poetry. In parallel with Hopkins's story, Hansen explores the event that jolts Hopkins back into writing in 1875: the sinking of the Deutschland—whose victims include five Catholic nuns exiled from Germany by Bismarck—at the mouth of the Thames. Delivering a deft blend of literary biography and disaster tale, Hansen (Mariette in Ecstasy, etc.) wrings a white-knuckled drama out of the lives of the poet/priest and five extraordinary German women, who were headed to St. Louis, Mo., to lead the American branch of their order. As for Hopkins, his poetry is poorly received for its unconventionality, and his Jesuit superiors punish him for his oddities (Hansen steers clear of Hopkins's sexuality). Hansen finds in the difficult paths of six remarkable people the pursuit of a tranquil, soothing God of intimacy and tolerance and unquenchable love. Fans of Hopkins's verse will cherish the chance to revisit the astonishing 280-line The Wreck of the Deutschland, reprinted as a coda. (May)
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From Booklist

*Starred Review* Veteran historical novelist Hansen (whose previous works include Atticus, 1996, and Hitler’s Niece, 1999) brilliantly, if soberly, weaves two interrelated story lines into a riveting novel based on the factual background to the writing of Victorian poet Gerard Manley Hopkins’ classic epic poem “The Wreck of the Deutschland.” The two story lines—one, about what drew Hopkins to write the poem, and, two, about the lives of five Catholic nuns who drowned in the grounding of the German liner off the coast of England in 1875—are thematically connected, in addition to the literal one between author and poetic work. Born and raised in the Church of England, Hopkins as a young man not only converted to Roman Catholicism but also became a Jesuit priest. Thus, he was in spiritual exile from his original church and from his family, who were uncomfortable with his conversion, and when sent by the Jesuits to teach in Dublin, he was cast into physical exile from his native country. The five nuns, whose individual stories Hansen brings to light, were being sent into exile in the U.S. by their convent in Germany, in the shadow of the anti-Catholic laws being promulgated by the Bismarck regime. The tragic voyage of the ship the nuns were unfortunate enough to book passage on is itself chronicled with a heart-thumping vividness. --Brad Hooper

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Customer Reviews

4.1 out of 5 stars
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A brilliant and haunting novel.
Kerry Walters
Ron Hansen's blend of biography and novel makes for an interesting read that opens up a little-known (at least to me) tragedy peopled with fascinating characters.
David Donelson
Hansen has a great knack of engaging you as he weaves the lives of Hopkins and the five nuns of the doomed Deutschland.
James M. Reiter

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

66 of 66 people found the following review helpful By Kerry Walters VINE VOICE on May 20, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
After reading Ron Hansen's 1992 Mariette In Ecstasy, I thought: "This is it. This is the peak of his career as a novelist. Hansen will never be able to top this."

I was wrong. His new novel, Exiles, a curious and effective combination of novel and biography, is the best thing he's done to date. It left me breathless.

In the novel, Hansen cuts back and forth between the lives and death of the wonderful, bewildering, and innovative poet Gerard Manley Hopkins, and five German Franciscan nuns, America-bound, who perished when the "Deutschland" hit a sandbar off the British coast in the dead of winter. Hopkins was so moved by the newspaper accounts of their death that he wrote a long, 35-stanza poem, "The Wreck of the Deutschland," reflecting on their unhappy end.

In Exiles, Hansen speculates about why Hopkins was so affected by the accident. His suggestion is sensitive and nuanced. Hopkins feels a connection with the nuns because all of them are exiles, both literally and spiritually. Literally, the nuns are exiled from their German homeland because of the anti-Church laws pushed through by the Iron Chancellor Bismarck; Hopkins is exiled from his beloved Wales to Dublin, a locale he hated and which in many ways contributed to his early death. Spiritually, all six of the characters are exiles from their true home, God. They're thrust into "a world sour with sinning. Exiles, then, not from Germany, not from Europe, but from Paradise, from Heaven" (p. 192).

There is, however, a darker exilic theme in the novel expressed most explicitly in something one of the doomed nuns says: "We sometimes seem God's playthings. The dice he rolls" (p. 186). How to make sense of a shipwreck which destroys the good and the evil, the innocent and the guilty, alike?
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22 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Mary Whipple HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on May 18, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Gerard Manley Hopkins, a poet almost unknown in his own lifetime, is the most experimental and most challenging of the Victorian writers. Abandoning "the cloying poetry, sentimentality, and forced rhymes" of his contemporaries, in favor of the "sprung rhythms" of Anglo-Saxon poetry, Hopkins hoped to "recreate the native and natural stresses of speech." A convert to Catholicism, Hopkins joined the Society of Jesus in 1868, and he soon determined that he must give up writing poetry to avoid earthly distractions from his priestly duties.

The wreck of the Deutschland, a passenger vessel going from Germany to New York in December, 1875, and the consequent deaths of five young nuns who were passengers, however, moved him to write a 35-stanza memorial which is among the most "modern" poems of the era. Imagining the nuns' deaths by drowning in frigid waters off the coast of England, Hopkins recreates their religious torments as they face their deaths in the roiling sea. "The Wreck of the Deutschland" (included here as an Appendix), regarded as Hopkins's most important long poem, was never published in his lifetime, even in the Catholic journal to which he submitted it, and it was almost lost forever.

Ron Hansen, the immensely versatile author of Mariette in Ecstasy, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, Hitler's Niece: A Novel, and
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23 of 24 people found the following review helpful By James Martin on May 31, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Even if you have never heard of Gerard Manley Hopkins, the Victorian-era Jesuit poet whose misunderstood and underappreciated work would revolutionize the art, or the tragic wreck of the ship called "The Deutschland," an event which proved to be the inspiration for Hopkins's greatest work, you need to read this gorgeous, beautifully written, marvelously composed book. Hansen, author of the luminous "Mariette in Ecstasy," the gripping "Atticus," the dark "Hitler's Niece, and the lighthearted "Isn't It Romantic," is one of this country's greatest stylists, and his astonishing new novel will open your eyes to questions of faith, creativity, friendship, commitment and suffering. I read this book last night in one sitting, and plan to do exactly the same thing again today.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer VINE VOICE on June 27, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a wonderful book about the poet Gerard M. Hopkins and how he came to write the Wreck of the Deutchland, along with the story of the Franciscan Sisters whose death in that shipwreck so moved Fr. Hopkins. I enjoyed this book for several reasons. First, Ron Hansen is just such a fine writer. All of his books are so well done, and this one especially was very touching, truly looking at the deepdown things, as Hopkins might have said. In a strange way, the story of the sisters parallels that of Hopkins -- the sisters died so terribly in the freezing water and wind, playthings of God it seemed. In another way, this is also true of Hopkins. In so many ways this man of genius was misunderstood, unrewarded, lived in a cold world that didn't seem to have many rewards. Like the nuns, he just puts what hope he has in God. But somehow, this all works together in this book to leave me with a calm sense of hope. I recommend this book without reservation. It is just great.
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