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Original Essays | September 15, 2014

Lois Leveen: IMG Forsooth Me Not: Shakespeare, Juliet, Her Nurse, and a Novel



There's this writer, William Shakespeare. Perhaps you've heard of him. He wrote this play, Romeo and Juliet. Maybe you've heard of it as well. It's... Continue »
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Dear Exile: The Story of a Friendship Separated (for a Year) by an Ocean (Vintage Departures)

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Dear Exile: The Story of a Friendship Separated (for a Year) by an Ocean (Vintage Departures) Cover

ISBN13: 9780375703676
ISBN10: 0375703675
Condition: Standard
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Reading Group Guide

1. In Dear Exile, Kate's and Hilary's stories unfold in their letters to

one another. How does the immediacy of letters, in contrast to a straight

narrative, affect your experience as a reader? Did you empathize with one woman

more than the other? Did your feelings change during the course of the book?

2. Hilary says she "was afraid that Kate would disappear into married life, and

she actually did disappear, almost right away . . . when the newlyweds joined the

Peace Corps and went to Kenya" [p. 5]. Is Hilary only concerned about the

physical separation? Are her fears about losing Kate realized to any extent, or

do the friends maintain the closeness they enjoyed before Kate married? Would

their relationship have been different if Hilary had not been so fond of Dave?

3. During her first weeks in Kenya, Kate writes, "I'm beginning to feel

generally disoriented" [p. 16]. Are Kate's feelings an inevitable reaction to

being in a foreign environment? How do the perceptions of the local people affect

her perception of herself? In response, Hilary writes about her new job, saying,

"So right now I hardly recognize myself" [p. 18]. Is Hilary's feeling of

disorientation as understandable as Kate's?

4. Hilary feels like a guest in her father's house, admitting, "I would never

feel the need to be so cautious and polite and adult if I were staying with my

mother" [p. 20]. Kate is taken under the wings of older women in the villages she

and Dave live in during their stay in Kenya. Discuss the role that bonds between

women play in Dear Exile, comparing and contrasting their importance in Kenyan

culture and American culture. In what ways are the lives of women in Kenya

similar to the lives of women in America?

5. Except for Dave's short notes at the end of Kate's letters, the men in Dear

Exile are seen only through the eyes of two women. What are your impressions of

the men Hilary discusses in her letters: her close friend, Josh Stack; her

brother, Steven; Jason, her old boyfriend; and William Strong, the doctor she

falls in love with? How do Hilary's romantic notions influence her reactions to

men?

6. When she arrives in Ramisi, Kate writes, "For the time being, Kenya has

totally kicked both of our butts" [p. 40]. What adjustments--both practical and

psychological--help her feel more at home? What does she mean when she says "my

feeling of independence is really not from deprivation but actually from

privilege and wealth. I can feel lighter, relieved of the load of a life of

luxury" [p. 45]?

7. In several letters, Hilary makes wry observations about the differences

between her life as a single woman [p. 52] and the lives of couples [p. 64]. In

your opinion, do her assessments reflect only her personal experiences or are

they valid in a more universal sense? To what extent do they stem from her

admiration and even envy for Kate's and her brother's marriages?

8. Kate is very unsettled by the atmosphere in Kenyan schools--from the rigid

style of teaching to the acceptance of harsh physical punishment. Are Kate's

expectations about what she can accomplish as a Peace Corps teacher unrealistic?

Is her idealism a privilege that only can be enjoyed by well-educated,

"comfortable" people? Do you think her unwillingness to accept local standards of

behavior is right or wrong? How do you feel about her statement that "it's all

about what a person is raised to believe, it could all be called culture, but I

wasn't raised to believe this, and I can't be open-minded about it" [p. 73]?

9. When the Peace Corps reports that the drinking water in Ramisi is unfit for

human consumption, only Kate and Dave take the news seriously. Kate says, "It's

tricky to be telling people that their ways aren't good enough. I don't know if

they don't want to hear it from us whites, if they don't want to contest 'God's

will,' or if they just don't care" [p. 69]. Do Kate and Dave--and Peace Corps

volunteers in general--have an obligation to teach basic rules of sanitation

which would lessen the incidence of disease and death despite the resistance of

the local people?

10. Hilary worries that she is caving in to the standards of American office and

beauty cultures. Is renouncing the promises she made in college--"never to wear

panty hose or painful shoes, never to have manicures . . . or pay more than

twenty dollars for a haircut or carry a purse" [p. 78]--a necessary part of

becoming a "grown-up"? Do these outward signs of change mean that she is being

untrue to herself?

11. What was your reaction to Hilary's sexual adventures in cyberspace? Do

you think she should have continued the virtual affair once she discovered that

she knew her chat-room lover? Do you think they should have pursued their

relationship in real life?

12. At Kwale High, the second village school Kate and Dave are sent to,

conditions are just as bad as the conditions in Ramisi schools. Have Kate's

attitudes about the canings and verbal assaults--integral parts of African

education--changed in any way during her nine months in Kenya? Do you think that

her fellow teachers' image of "American schools full of weapons, violence, and

disrespect for authority" [p. 119] justifies their dismissal of Kate's teaching

style? How would you respond to their claims that treating children severely in

school is a natural, necessary extension of the traditions set at home?

13. Kate and Dave meet a volunteer who has thoroughly assimilated to the Kenyan

way of life [p. 120]. Is his approach to living in a foreign country more

appropriate than Kate's and Dave's? Is his willingness to embrace the negative

aspects of the culture morally reprehensible?

14. Kate compares the exorcism in Kwale to the Salem witch trials, yet the witch

doctor's rituals do cure the "curse" on the young girls. How do you explain the

success of these ancient rites? How would similar problems with adolescent girls

be treated in this country?

15. What do Hilary's weird neighbors--the woman upstairs who moves furniture in

the middle of the night and the man downstairs who screams frightening

threats--as well as some of her less successful dates, represent in the context

of the book? What insights do Hilary's reactions to them reveal about her ability

to cope with the real world? Do you sympathize with Hilary's fears and

uncertainties, or do they seem trivial in comparison to Kate's? Why yes or no?

16. Kate remains on the sidelines as the tensions at school mount and eventually

escalate into violence. Should she have taken a more active role--either in

dealing with the "powers that be" or with the students themselves? As part of the

community, was it really possible for her to be an "innocent bystander"?

17. Kate and Dave decide to leave Kenya because they don't have the spirit and

energy to move to another village. Do you think they could have adapted by

drawing lessons from their experiences and developing new attitudes? What

experiences have you had with culture clashes? Discuss how--and if--it is

possible to adjust to another culture without betraying personal values.

18. Dear Exile ends with a postscript and an epilogue by the letter

writers. How do these finishing touches enhance the impressions you formed of

each woman through their letters? Which woman changed more during their year

apart?

19. Do you think the intimacy Kate and Hilary developed as correspondents will be

sustained now that they live in the same city? Does writing letters offer

opportunities for introspection and honesty that can't be matched in telephone

conversations and face-to-face encounters?

What Our Readers Are Saying

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Average customer rating based on 1 comment:

Beth, August 23, 2006 (view all comments by Beth)
A great read about true friendship and the dealings of life. Kate's letters about her and her husband's life as they work for a year in the Peace Corp contrasts Hilary's day to day troubles about men and work in the city. This read gives great perspective about the lives of two friends who share a bond that spans an ocean.
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(11 of 20 readers found this comment helpful)

Product Details

ISBN:
9780375703676
Prologue:
Montgomery, Kate
Author:
Montgomery, Kate
Author:
Liftin, Hilary
Author:
Montgomery, Kate
Publisher:
Vintage Books USA
Location:
New York :
Subject:
Description and travel
Subject:
Social life and customs
Subject:
Women
Subject:
Travelers
Subject:
Kenya
Subject:
New York
Subject:
Africa - Kenya
Subject:
Ramisi (Kenya) Description and travel.
Subject:
Ramisi
Subject:
Africa - East - Kenya
Subject:
Correspondence
Subject:
New York (N.Y.) Social life and customs.
Subject:
Ramisi (Kenya) Social life and customs.
Subject:
Biography-Women
Copyright:
Edition Number:
1st ed.
Edition Description:
Trade paper
Series:
Vintage Departures Original
Publication Date:
19990431
Binding:
TRADE PAPER
Grade Level:
General/trade
Language:
English
Illustrations:
Yes
Pages:
208
Dimensions:
7.98x5.22x.60 in. .52 lbs.

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Related Subjects


Biography » Women
History and Social Science » Africa » Kenya
History and Social Science » World History » Africa
Travel » Travel Writing » Africa and Middle East
Travel » Travel Writing » General

Dear Exile: The Story of a Friendship Separated (for a Year) by an Ocean (Vintage Departures) Used Trade Paper
0 stars - 0 reviews
$4.50 In Stock
Product details 208 pages Vintage Books USA - English 9780375703676 Reviews:
"Review" by , "Engaging travel literature, a witty exploration of modern women's lives, and a testament to the power and blessing of friendship."
"Review" by , "These letters are witty, real, charming, smart, touching, and amazingly unselfconscious. Truly, Dear Exile was for me love at first word."
"Review" by , "I love Dear Exile, and I love the women in it. I opened it one afternoon, then just couldn't put it down. Here is a girlfriend relationship that I actually recognize. Their humor, love, and world view is to me, simply, perfection."
"Review" by , "Throughout the exchange, both women combine humor and gravity in describing the challenges they face. Dear Exile is most striking for the global perspective it offers readers in juxtaposing Liftin's urban woes with the hardships faced by Montgomery and her Kenyan neighbors."
"Review" by , "A nearly perfect book about the sweet pleasure of friendship. Reading [Dear Exile] is like spending time with a smart, affectionate, perceptive, effortlessly funny companion....The letters [are] like an uninterrupted conversation that never loses its harmony, with longing and affection and that quick, beautifully calibrated code in which best friends speak."
"Review" by , "Elegantly written, this correspondence reads like miniature essays on subjects as diverse as loneliness, clementines, the joy (and pain) of cybersex, and how to behave while one's concrete hut is being exorcised. Above all, this book affirms the power of friendship as expressed in the nearly lost art of letter writing."
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