Posted by: Kate | February 14, 2011

Book Review: “Dear Exile”

Dear Exile: The True Story of Two Friends Separated (for a Year) by an Ocean is a book I heard about a number of years ago now. It has been on my reading list, tucked onto one of my pages, where I occasionally glance at it and then pass it by. Last month I finally requested the book, and am I ever glad I did.

This book  tells the story of two women, once college room-mates, who became dedicated pen pals when their lives took them in two very different directions (physically and emotionally). The story is told solely through their letters (aside from a very small afterward by each of them). It captures the true emotions of a young woman in her twenties, facing new adventures and uncertainties about growing up. The writing is excellent, at turns comedic and then sad, and I was hooked from the first page of the first letter.

“While we were walking today, seven giraffes and a herd of zebras ambled across our path acting completely unconcerned by the fact that they were not in a zoo.”

While one friend is having a truly exotic adventure, having run off to the Peace Corps with her husband, the other friend is having her own adventures of being a single woman taking on responsibility for her own life. The letters seem to serve as a safe repository for the sometimes overwhelming realities of these adventures.

“I have obeyed my runes and leapt empty-handed into the void. Much as I try to explain to myself that I am in transition and everything’s going to turn out just fine, I’m hardly the happy camper we remember.”

I like the rapport and the honesty in the letters. This is everyday life and yet more, a subtle commentary on the bigger pictures they are both part of. There is no fairy-tale ending, no long-term wrap-up (although we get a brief comment from each of the women after the year is up). Just a year in the life of these two women, as they told it to each other.

Definitely a book that wins my recommendation. For all its lightness and quirkiness — there was something of substance there as well.



  1. I remember when writing letters was common. When I read “I have obeyed my runes and leapt empty-handed into the void. Much as I try to explain to myself that I am in transition and everything’s going to turn out just fine, I’m hardly the happy camper we remember.” I thought of how it seems it is easier to bare one’s soul on the page than face to face. I’m trying to figure out why. Perhaps the space available in a letter, no immediate response–no questions, answers, body language. It is a completely different form of conversation. Interesting book review and intriguing topic.

    • Denise, I think you’re right, and other reviews of this book have touched on the intimacy of letter writing as well.

  2. This sounds like a super book to read, thanks for your recommend. I’ve always loved the intimacy of letter-writing, always have and always will. I enjoy receiving letters, cards, as well. Esp. in this age of the computer, it’s always ALWAYS refreshing to receive something handwritten from someone you know & love.

    I’ve just written down the name of this book, whew, that was a long one! ;) I most enjoyed your small excerpts from the book, makes me want to dive right in.

  3. sounds very interesting kate.
    i agree as well with the above comment about the intimacy of letter writing. i’ll be adding this book to my “to read” list as well.

  4. Thank you so much for directing me to this book and for your great review…it immediately went on my to read list. I love where letters, or books, or any other form of written communication (like notes jotted down on a family cookbook) serves as the main structure and/or character of the book.

    The The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is a book of letters and though has mixed reviews, I loved it. Have you ever read the Griffin and Sabine books? It’s a fiction series of books of letters/postcards that were written between two people who didn’t know each other…the book was designed to have you literally open the letters out of an envelope glued to the page. Intriguing story and book structure, and just a beautiful set of books.

    Also–have you read Truth and Beauty: A Friendship by Ann Patchett? Not a book of letters but just an honest story of friendship.

  5. Wow, this sounds like an awesome book. Thank you!

Welcome! I always like to hear what people think of a post, it often leads to a great discussion! I am now responding to comments and questions right in the comments themselves, so other people can follow the conversation.

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