- Paperback: 416 pages
- Publisher: HarperCollins (5 July 2011)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 9350290626
- ISBN-13: 978-9350290620
- Product Dimensions: 12.7 x 2.4 x 19.6 cm
- Average Customer Review: 2 customer reviews
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #2,01,005 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Exiles Paperback – 5 Jul 2011
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About the Author
Ghalib Shiraz Dhalla is an accomplished film-maker and author of the critically acclaimed novel, Ode to Lata. He wrote and produced the film adaptation of Ode to Lata, and has just completed his forthcoming film, Embrace. Dhalla's work has been celebrated at The Lincoln Center for Performing Arts in New York and Yale University's prestigious Master's Tea.
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Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
The novel starts by focusing on Rahul, a workaholic who, like Dhalla, is an Indian man from Kenya, currently living in California. He and his wife, Pooja, have been married for many years, and they have a son, Ajay, who is also there. The story centers around Rahul, and the affair he’s having with a younger man named Atif. Rahul feels terrible that he’s cheating on his wife and can’t be open with his family, Pooja feels terrible because her husband is both cheating on her and- god forbid- gay, Atif feels terrible because Rahul is married and therefore can’t prioritize their relationship and is guilty about it even existing. It switches between their perspectives, as well as some of other characters, like Rahul’s son Ajay, or their neighbor, Sonali, giving a full scope of the narrative, and how these actions affect many people.
I will say one thing for Dhalla- he certainly knows a lot of words. But reading the novel just makes me wish that he could have spent more time with his manuscript and editor, because none of his big, ten-dollar words are inserted into the novel with any elegance or care. It felt like Dhalla kept trying to distract the reader with how gosh-darned smart he is so we wouldn't notice the gaping hole where normal narration is supposed to go. The result is as forced and unpleasant as shoving a square peg through a round hole The first time I remember the book losing me was at page 10, with the line “There was something starkly malapropos about such a rendezvous in summer's extended light.” If I can’t make it through the first 1% of your book without needed to pause to question both your word and life choices, your book needs some editing. Maybe I’m just being picky, but it seems like basic novel-writing- don’t include something that takes your readers out of the experience of reading your book. And definitely don’t write a line so pretentious that I have to tell every single person I know about it.
As for the actual content of the book, it’s dreary at the best of times, and almost offensive at the worst. Several offhand comments irked me, like Atif talking about how all the other gay men just wanted sex when he wanted a real relationship (way to perpetuate the stereotype that all gay men are sex-crazed maniacs), or Rahul complaining about how nobody reads anymore (I’m reading right now. Leave me alone!), but the ending to this novel was unforgivable. And I’m going to spoil it a little bit here- a gay man dies. And not only does he die, he is beaten to death for little more than the fact that he is a gay man, and all the parties who are still alive seem to have more sympathy and affection for the murderer than for the victim. It is an ending completely unearned by the narrative, and one that could be supported by some really quality writing, which the novel just doesn’t have. Am I supposed to hate every single character in this novel? Am I supposed to hate Dhalla himself? Is that the point, and I’m just missing it? I genuinely can’t tell if this awfulness is intentional, or if it just stems from Dhalla being careless and self-important.
As a queer person, I found this novel almost offensive. Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t like being told I’m going to get a complex novel about love through adversity and instead getting a novel about misery and murder. I don’t like reading a book written by a gay man in which the most prominent gay-identifying character is killed off as a twist ending (because that’s soooooo edgy, isn’t it?) and then homosexuality is blamed for the motivation it. I don’t like being told by someone who is like me in the most fundamental way I can imagine- the ability to love- that “it’s rare to find unadulterated happiness because it is impossible to get what you want without hurting another” (319). This isn’t said by any of the characters, mind- this is just narration. This is just an out of character statement that Dhalla left there, like a bag of dog poo on a doorstep. No one in this novel is happy, and when they try to make themselves happy, they just make everyone else miserable. Or dead. Someone dies and they barely blame his murderer at all.
I genuinely have no idea who this book is supposed to appeal to. I’d imagine (or hope, at least) that most people in the LGBT+ community are as fed up with this tired “Bury Your Gays” trope as I am. And I imagine any homophobe wouldnt willingly read a novel in which one of the characters is in a relationship with a man, even if the homophobic ideas are the ones presented most sympathetically. Who is this book for?
Well, not me, certainly.
Would not recommend, even if it was the last book on Earth, and I fully intend on taking my copy and destroying it, so no one else accidentally reads it ever. If I could give it 0 stars, I would.
The story explores mainly the life and journey of its protagonists - Pooja, Rahul and Atif. Rahul and Pooja hail from Kenya and they have a certain shared past before settling in L.A. The story begins at a point where Rahul is a well settled banker, Pooja is a homemaker managing her catering business from her own kitchen and Ajay is a typical teenager who is into gym and clubbing. While the disappearing sizzle of Rahul and Pooja's marital life has left Pooja a bit confused and lonely, Rahul on the other hand finds solace in Atif, an immigrant from Mumbai.
Unlike my usual taste for exploring the characters of a story first, I would like to talk about the plot first. This is undoubtedly one of the best plotline that I have come across in recent times. Don't get me wrong, it is not as complex as Da Vinci Code or as action packed as Bourne series or as mysterious as Sherlock Holmes novels. It is pretty simple and straightforward. But the different aspects of a common people's lives covered that gives this novel an exotic feel. For instance, a person struggling to find their true identity, or a person finally embracing his own sexuality, or a person's individual take on religion... The author managed to capture the different cultures and interlink them. The love scenes do not include any vulgarity but pure love and passion pours out of those pages. Human nature and raw emotions have been captured in a beautiful manner. There's a hint of everything in this page turner - drama, romance, deception and honesty.
Now, a plot like that needs strong characters that can do justice to it. And indeed, our protagonists play their roles to perfection. While Rahul plays the most dominant role and is the link to Pooja, and Atif, these other two people play as important an important role too. Rahul's past shaped him up and Pooja has been a true companion to him, but its Atif's influence that finally brought Rahul's character to its epitome. Atif's brings in with him his own experiences, his status of an illegal immigrant and his involvement with Rahul takes him to a place where as a reader I was on a roller coaster ride. At the same time, Pooja by no fault of her own, is lonely and her life is difficult on a totally different level. Then there is Greg - whose religious beliefs seem to be distancing him from his family. There's also Pooja's gossipy neighbor Sonali and a few other minor characters. Each true to life and easy to relate to.
Everything is brought together with great attention to detail and careful prose in order to make this book what it is - A Must Read!