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by Ann Ireland

Carlos Romero Estévez is hastily smuggled out of his country and flown to Vancouver to take up a university appointment as writer-in-exile. It is possible, however, to be a political refugee without being a hero, and Carlos is uneasy that his champions may decide they have been duped. He is indeed a poet and a journalist, but one who preferred cafés and lavish government receptions to the field. His imperilled life is in fact the result of a social gaffe. But does he deserve the emasculation imposed on him by his earnest Canadian sponsors, who scold him for his drinking and smoking and amorous approaches to female students?

Ann Ireland’s interest in the convergence of Canadian sensibilities with those of other cultures goes back a long way – notably, to her first novel, A Certain Mr. Takahashi. In Exile, her third novel, she assumes the persona of a Latino man raised to a life of privilege, and pulls it off with finesse. By his own admission, Carlos (though handsome) is far from admirable, a coward and a liar with haunting acts of betrayal in his past. Often he is not even likable – ask the roommate who must live with his overflowing ashtrays and petty thefts of coffee. But he is also a writer, and a good one. His observations of Canadian mores and academic behaviours are eloquent and acute.

Drawing on her travels, PEN Canada experience, and various writer-in-residence stints, Ireland manipulates the complex tensions between Carlos’s arrogance and sensitivity and his rescuers’ patronizing preconceptions and infatuation with doing good. This is a wise, funny, sad, and compassionate book. Carlos’s chagrin and pain are palpable, but Ireland holds out hope that as a clever man with a talent, he may transcend his shallow past and desperate present.