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Exiles in Eden: Life Among the Ruins of Florida's Great Recession Hardcover – August 31, 2010


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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. As a freelance writer often in need of money, Reyes frequently helped his father "trash out" foreclosed homes in Florida. Trashing out was what they called "erasing all traces of whoever lived there, dispensing with both their physical presence and the ugly aura of eviction." Before the housing crisis, trashing out gave Reyes a small but steady supplement to his income. But after, Reyes decided to use the experience as a way to examine the crisis and its impact on the lives of ordinary people. He becomes involved with many who had lost their homes, and some who are offering assistance, and follows up on them as they try to rebuild their lives. Many had been subprime borrowers duped by unscrupulous lenders, lost their jobs, and accrued too much debt, and their stories, often best revealed by the desperate detritus left behind, form the spine of Reyes's powerful book. The author also tells his father's story, and the typicality of this immigrant's tale supports, rather than weakens, the larger point. His impressive effort stands as a wrenching chronicle of our new hard times.

From Booklist

Floridian Reyes works “trashing out” foreclosed houses—emptying the houses and cleaning them for resale. With Florida being, arguably, ground zero for the country’s ongoing economic disaster, Reyes has plenty of work; thinking as a writer, he dubs his melancholy labors a kind of “moody archaeology,” piecing together the stories of ousted home owners from the items they abandoned. Some are victims of predatory mortgage originators, thousands of whom have been convicted of financial crimes. Others have lost their jobs and then their homes. Some are simply fools, “an absurdity,” he writes, “that seems indigenous to Florida.” Exiles in Eden is engaging, insightful, compassionate, and often charmingly idiosyncratic. His portrayals of foreclosure’s victims are uniformly sad, but he tempers the mood a bit with perceptive analysis of the state’s history, socioeconomics, and odd allure: “For most of its history, through today, Florida was the weird backyard of the American imagination, as deadly as it was salubrious.” Boom, he notes, is the “backbone” of the state’s economy, and constant development and change leave residents “little sense of feeling anchored.” Recommend this one both to followers of the economic crisis and to anyone who feels Florida’s “odd allure.” --Thomas Gaughan
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.; First Edition edition (August 31, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805091238
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805091236
  • Product Dimensions: 5.7 x 1 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,924,104 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Paul Reyes is the former editor-at-large of The Oxford American magazine and currently a contributing editor with Virginia Quarterly Review. In addition to those publications, he has written for Harper's, Slate, the Los Angeles Times Book Review, The New York Times, Details, and the Mississippi Review. He is also included in The Best American Magazine Writing 2009. In 2010 he received a Literature Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Ray S. on September 15, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Paul Reyes has written a unique and enchanting glimpse into the human side of the foreclosure crisis that has ravaged Florida's housing market. He weaves in and out of a lifetime full of stories about abandoned homes, yet-to-be abandoned homes, and the people who are caught up in the middle of the mess.

It's not a book that deals with the mind-numbing economics of the collapse of the mortgage industry. Reyes eschews interviews with bigwigs and experts in favor of snippets of daily life on the ground in Florida's hardest hit communities. Most of the chapters recount Reyes' days following around his father, who made a career out of cleaning up the left-behind remains after a foreclosed homeowner skips town.

I highly recommend the book if you are looking for greater insight into the human dimension of the Florida housing crisis. The style is both illustrative and, at times, poetic. I often found myself swept up in the narrative, nearly to the point of feeling the sweat of a humid Florida afternoon. The chapter on Lehigh Acres is particularly intriguing, bringing to light some of the backhanded real estate tactics that laid the groundwork for the current crisis.

Kudos again to Reyes on his debut book.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Brad Smith on December 12, 2011
Format: Hardcover
I couldn't stop reading this, but not because it was fantastically well written, thought it is. I enjoyed it because I live in Tampa where this book is based, and all the geography and place names are all too real. True, Reyes really doesn't tie things all together. He hops around with long vignettes about trashing out foreclosed homes, family memories, tales of Florida real estate scams way back in the day, history lessons, glimpses of low-income housing activists in Miami and one particularly interesting look at Lehigh Acres, a Lee County development where northerners back in simpler times bought lots for $10 down and $10 a month, with no expectation that they would ever move to rural Florida. The writing quality here is extremely detailed, and the people portraits are rich. There's no beginning, middle or end to the tale. Just a snapshot of the latest foreclosure crisis, while we know there will be another one another day.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Raul Ramos on June 10, 2011
Format: Hardcover
With prose that is frank, vivid and highly-original, Paul Reyes manages to give a soul to a soulless place in EXILES IN EDEN. Reyes' deftly uses his presence in the book to provide social observations while avoiding the omniscient third person moralizing of many books about social crises. In exploring the history of Tampa and Miami Beach, Reyes tracks the sordid hucksterism that is the social DNA of the current crisis. I found EXILES IN EDEN an eye-opening must-read about the creeping, social corrosion overtaking Florida and large parts of the nation.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By C. P. Anderson on December 9, 2010
Format: Kindle Edition
Paul Reyes is a writer with a rather unique perspective on the mortgage crisis. His family is involved in cleaning out foreclosed homes in Miami, possibly ground zero for these things.

Reyes includes several different types of material in this book:

- Descriptions of the clean-out process - This is actually why I read this book. I guess I was thinking of something along the lines of an entertaining, insightful foray into garbageology. Unfortunately, this particular material is a little thin.
- Higher-level material on the crisis itself - This has to be there, but it's obvious this is really not his metier.
- Descriptions of the people involved - This is where Reyes shines. He does foreclosees, the guys in his family's crew, an activist, etc.
- Family memories - These were the best. Unfortunately, they're not always that closely related. One that is, though, is his parents buying a piece of swampland back in the 60s, then his looking it up 50 years later, which was particularly good.

Unfortunately, there's no real effort to tie these things together. It just seems to be one thing after another, with no sense of any real direction. It might actually have worked as a set of separate individual pieces. Or perhaps some overview at the beginning (I hope that wasn't in the intro - I never read those!).
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By SPB3 on September 10, 2010
Format: Hardcover
An extremely interesting narrative written primarily from the perspective of the individuals who lost their homes and the circumstances leading up to those loses. Reyes manages to provide intimate insight into these individuals' lives without diminishing their dignity. Obviously, an awful lot of work went into seeking these displaced former homeowners to discover their perspective on the loss of the stereotypical American dream.

A really good read.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Rick on September 20, 2010
Format: Hardcover
I first became familiar with Reyes' writing on this topic through his article that appeared a couple years ago in Harper's Magazine. He has greatly extended the scope and depth of his research and the result is a fascinating portrait of Florida in all its get rich quick glory and subsequent collapse. Reyes' work is notable in its blend of traditional print journalism, personal memoir and ethnography. In doing so, he creates an insightful look at the Florida housing boom bust cycle. His insights extend well beyond the Sunshine State though, and this book would be of interest to a wide audience wondering how the country got to a point where record numbers of homeowners owe more than their house is worth. While reading this book, I was more than once reminded of the Talking Heads' song "Once in a Lifetime" with its tagline "and you may ask yourself-well...how did I get here?"
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