The more I read from Ward Just, the more I love him. Exiles in the Garden was, I think, his most recent novel.
At the heart of the story is the romantic idea of the lives of European expatriates living in America after World War II. Many don’t feel at home in their homelands and many others really can’t go back.
Alec, the son of a longtime Midwestern senator, marries one such expatriate. The title refers to the garden parties of the next-door-neighbors where Lucia, the wife, finally begins to feel at home. Drama ensues.
Americans are often told that we cannot possibly understand the woes of other people in other parts of the world – which may very well be true. Many of us cannot possibly understand the psyche of the person that sees hardships like one’s country being overrun by Nazis and Soviets, losing one’s home and being sent to death camps or gulags. But this book makes another point:
For decades, Americans were roundly criticized for isolationism. For not interfering in other parts of the world when we were not being directly threatened. Now we are roundly criticized for the opposite. It does make one wonder what the rest of the planet expects from us.
I am just provincial enough to say that Alec was my favorite character and I found Lucia, with her “you can’t possibly understand”, tiresome. Although I did note that her view of Americans was reminiscent to me of Ian McEwan’s from The Innocent.
Overall, I am happy to say this was another winner.