Close friends and former college roommates, Hilary Liftin and Kate Montgomery promised to write when Kate's Peace Corps assignment took her to Africa. Read more...
Close friends and former college roommates, Hilary Liftin and Kate Montgomery promised to write when Kate's Peace Corps assignment took her to Africa. Over the course of a single year, they exchanged an offbeat and moving series of letters from rural Kenya to New York City and back again.
Kate, an idealistic teacher, meets unexpected realities ranging from poisonous snakes and vengeful cows to more serious hazards: a lack of money for education; a student body in revolt. Hilary, braving the singles scene in Manhattan, confronts her own realities, from unworthy suitors to job anxiety and first apartment woes. Their correspondence tells--with humor, warmth, and vivid personal detail--the story of two young women navigating their twenties in very different ways, and of the very special friendships we are sometimes lucky enough to find.
Often, volumes of correspondence are published to enlighten readers about famous figures' private thoughts or insights expressed only through letter writing. But Dear Exile stands on the merits of the correspondence itself. Readers meet the two writers through this book, and grow to appreciate their friendship and separate experiences through the underutilized art of correspondence.
Hilary Liftin and Kate Montgomery are college friends who began writing each other when Kate and her husband joined the Peace Corps and went to teach school in Africa while Hilary made her way in New York City. The result is an evocative and often intense work expressing two very different sides of the same close relationship.
Each writer expresses disillusionment to her friend. Hilary writes, "Kate, oh, how you've escaped . . . I'm making a life from scratch over here. It's no cakemix," while Kate writes of her own trouble adjusting to life in Kenya, with its hierarchical and foreign school system: "I feel jittery, and, when in the house, cry easily. I think it's because Dave and I feel so strongly that what's going on is horrible, and everyone around us thinks it's just fine."
But each also reports on her own successes and delights. Hilary writes of her new apartment: "I stood in the living room and thought, I'm going to see the light through different seasons here . . . I felt so easy, so content right then." Kate's pleasures are quite different, but as keenly felt as she acclimates to daily life in Africa. She writes, "Now and then a child running by would yell, 'Habari, Daudi! Jambo, Katie!'"
As sharply drawn as the depictions of life for Kate and Hilary are, the enduring portrait in Dear Exile is of the women's friendship. Even around the world from each other, they supported their familiarity with the detailed letters that kept them in touch.