Exile

Description

299 pages
$34.99
ISBN 1-55002-400-0
DDC C813'.54

Author

Publisher

Year

2002

Contributor

Reviewed by Norman Cheadle

Norman Cheadle is a professor of Spanish in the Department of Modern
Languages and Literatures, Laurentian University.

Review

In this intelligent novel, the fictional Canadian Alliance for Freedom
of Expression (the “good cop” counterpart to the neoconservative
political party?) “rescues” Carlos, a Latin American poet and
journalist, and instals him as Writer-in-Exile at UBC in Vancouver.
Carlos’s trajectory in exile traces an arc from the basement of family
friends in his native Santa Clara to a skid-row basement, sans friends,
on Granville Street. However, by novel’s end, Carlos begins to acquire
survival skills in the hostile new environment.

On the plane to Vancouver, Carlos reflects that modern man is in exile
from his authentic self. Carlos himself has no “authentic self,” but
he is obliged to invent its simulacrum if he wishes to survive in
Canada. Far from being the heroic political protester that his hosts
imagine, Carlos happily belonged to the exploiting class in his home
country; his only sin was to make advances on the mistress of a
vindictive General. At the same time, Carlos suffered from unrequited
love for a bisexual revolutionary (imagine a Che Guevara or
subcomandante Marcos who swings both ways). The irreducible errancy of
Carlos’s desire brings him much trouble in the Canadian social system
of subtle repression and sexual secrecy.

Superficially, the clash between Latino and Canadian cultures is played
out. But this clash is not symmetrical, and the novel indirectly
delineates the relationship of power that linked the rich North and the
vassal South in a global libidinal economy. Carlos has been imported to
satisfy the appetites of the vitally (not financially) impoverished
middle-class Canadians who hold him in a soft prison, use him for their
career needs, and force him to act out their fantastical projections,
extracting from him a libidinal surplus analogous to the economic
surplus scooped by global capitalism from its subject regions. When he
refuses to comply, they excommunicate him—a rational business
decision.

Appropriately, Carlos’s fictitious country is a bizarre pastiche of
elements from nations as diverse as Mexico and Argentina, for the novel
is less about Latin Americans than how North America produces the social
category “Latino” and forcibly makes the fantasy flesh.

Citation

Ireland, Ann., “Exile,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 25, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/9264.