Source- Review copy/ Pan Macmillan Australia
Synopsis: Samantha has lived in Tanzania since she was three years old. Her parents run an exclusive travel lodge and are too absorbed by their own affairs to pay much attention to their daughter. The mother sips expat gin and tonics under the midday sun; the father, a former S.A.S. officer turned mercenary, busies himself with dead end coup d’etats and clandestine love affairs with local women. Samantha learns quickly that affection comes at a premium, at a price she is always willing to pay, however shallow and transitory the experience, however hollow the love on offer. Before long, her reputation precedes her, losing her friends as quickly as it gains her admirers amongst the town’s less savoury elements, for whom consent is barely an afterthought. When Samantha meets Victor, middle-aged and, like her father, a mercenary, she falls for him instantly, persuading herself that his love will finally free her from her past. But Victor is already married, and she is not the first young girl to catch his wandering eye. Exile is the first part of a powerful and gritty trilogy that explores the listless, self-destructive lives of rootless, European ex-pats, laying bare intractable post-colonial tensions and capturing effortlessly the tragic beauty of a continent run into the ground and sinking into the mire.
Review: I loved this book, but it is such a difficult book to review. It’s hard to describe in words why this book was so engaging. It’s not your typical novel with a start, middle and ending. Rather, it reads like a memoir in the sense that it follows the protagonist over several years of her life.
Fifteen year old Samantha is not necessarily a likeable protagonist. She smokes, drinks, has a gutter mouth and is highly sexualised. But there is something very charming about her; she has a definite vulnerability that is endearing.
Sam lives in Tanzania with her parents and older sister Alison and is trying to find her place in the school for ex-pats. Only problem is that most of the teens at the school have just as many problems as her. Parents involved in corruption and frequently absent from their lives. It is not surprise that they just do whatever they like. Sam’s father is abusive and frequently on secret business trips while her mother is an alcoholic. The only constant in her life is her older sister, but Sam finds it difficult follow the success of her wise and likeable sister. Neither of her parents provide Sam with the stability she needs so she has no guidance and no boundaries.
So, Sam just does whatever she wants. Her desperate attempts to be loved usually results in the opposite because her defences come up and she either hurts herself or offends people. She is provocative with boys but also naïve and innocent in a sense. She uses her body to attract the attention of the opposite sex, but then doesn’t know what to do once she has their attention.
I thought her relationship with Mick was interesting; she really liked him but didn’t know how to express her feelings. Her relationship with Victor, at least fifteen years her senior was quite unsettling for me even though it was a consensual relationship, she was quite a vulnerable girl and there was something about him that made my stomach turn. Sam is strong and tough but also vulnerable and funny and these qualities provide a nice contrast throughout the story.
Despite the matter-of-fact storytelling it did evoke emotion in me as I followed Sam through her emotional ups and downs. I was completely taken by surprise for the ending, but it certainly fit with the path that Sam had taken throughout the novel. Exile is a very dark and cynical story so if you want a story where everyone lives happily ever after then this is not the story for you!
I can’t wait for the sequels to be released, Revolution in 2012 and Liberty in 2013. It’s a shame the author died before seeing this trilogy in print.
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