The most amazing element contained in EXILE is the depth of historical and political detail. Richard North Patterson has created a very realistic plot, using Arab, Israeli, Iranian and American cultural, religious and political anomalies at the core.
David Wolfe is a successful San Francisco attorney and a Harvard Law School graduate. He is engaged to be married and has the potential to be the first Jewish-American president. Life holds great promise for David until he answers a phone call from Hana Arif, his old college sweetheart. Hana has many aspects to her character: she's a Muslim, a college professor, a wife, the mother of 13-year-old Munira --- and the keeper of a great secret.
When Israeli Prime Minister Amos Ben-Aron arrives in San Francisco, he attends a dinner in his honor at the home of David's fiancée, Carole Shorr. Ben-Aron was visiting and touring the United States to gather support for his Israeli/Palestinian peace initiative.
EXILE reads like a history of Arab/Israeli relations, within the context of the families featured in the book. It is history that is dead-on, with consistent relation to current events, in both global and personal terms. Honor, dedication, heritage, patriotism, blame and martyrdom are represented in great quantity. To me, the most interesting leitmotif was the power and understanding of personal courage and its lack of limits when one is confronted with fighting for their deeply ingrained beliefs. Those beliefs may be political, romantic, paternal, maternal, idealistic or religious.
When Ben-Aron is murdered by a suicide bomber during his stay in San Francisco, Hana is suspected of having inside information. And when her husband Saeb, also a professor from Birzeit University (near Ramallah), cannot provide an acceptable alibi for Hana's whereabouts at the time of the murder of Ben-Aron, Hana is taken into custody. Knowing no one in San Francisco other than David, Hana asks him to help with her defense.
Taking Hana's case has very grave ramifications for David, not just in his personal life with Carole but with his political aspirations as well. Hana had motive, with her anti-Israeli sentiments, and no credible alibi during the time of Ben-Aron's murder. To defend Hana, David travels to Israel to track down leads and meet with Hana's friends and family. He is desperate to exculpate her.
At the end of the day, the U.S. government has only Hana Arif. They have no Israeli conspiracy, no Palestinian splinter groups, no Iraqi involvement --- no one to blame except a woman who has an American education, Arab sentiments and an Arab name.
EXILE will cause you to revisit our civility (or lack thereof), our discriminatory tendencies, our impatience with those unable to speak English, our distrust of cultures foreign to us, and our impassioned disregard for those with whom we have no common thread. If nothing else, EXILE will give you a new perspective.
Reviewed by Marge Fletcher on January 12, 2007