he three essays in this volume, each long enough to be referred to as a nonfiction novella, originally appeared in the New Yorker, where Weschler is a staff writer. They engage directly with the theme of political exile by delving into the lives of three exiles: South African author Breyten Breytenbach, who would attempt to reenter the country to participate more actively in the struggle against apartheid, only to be captured and imprisoned; Kanan Makiya, an Iraqi whose Republic of Fear offered many Westerners their first in-depth knowledge of Saddam Hussein's regime; and Jan Karan, a participant in the 1968 revolution in Prague who, after years of running a smuggling operation in and out of Czechoslovakia, would return to his liberated homeland only to be denounced for alleged collaboration with its Communist oppressors.
Lawrence Weschler is one of the late 20th century's best journalists, a master of the profile format. He offers the reader tremendous amounts of information, including extensive historical backgrounds, without ever sacrificing any of his prose's immediacy or clarity. Given that his three subjects have each fought against oppressive regimes, it would be easy to portray them as simplistic heroes, but Weschler takes great pains to show the full complexities of their characters, even when it casts them in a less than flattering light. By reading Calamities of Exile, you will learn much about international politics, but, more importantly, you will learn much about people. --Ron Hogan